Tag Archives: Robert Fisk

was the Douma gas attack staged…? little by little the truth is coming out

Do you remember these harrowing scenes shot inside a hospital in Douma from early April last year?

The footage of an alleged chemical attack is genuinely distressing. The children who have queued up to receive treatment are clearly suffering, and many have terrified looks in their eyes. However, within hours and with the actual arrival of journalists on the ground, the first reports differed markedly from claims presented in this video footage.

They did not find evidence to corroborate the story that poison gas had been released. Instead, they spoke to eyewitnesses who described the aftermath of conventional airstrikes, some of whom also talked about smoke and dust inhalation. (Here are extracts of these on-the-ground reports that I reposted at the time.)

“What you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning,” Dr Assim Rahaibani, an eyewitness working in the clinic, told Robert Fisk of The Independent. The same doctor also explained how although the patients were suffering from smoke and dust inhalation, “someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other.” 1 This story was later corroborated by the eyewitness testimony of others including 11-year-old Hassan Diab (one of the children seen in the video) and by members of the hospital staff. 2

In short, what the video shows is real in one sense, but in another way this is a manufactured panic that was staged, repackaged and distributed all by the White Helmets group. In different circumstances, the footage would be called fake news because it is.

*

The tweet above was written by BBC Syria producer, Riam Dalati, and it first came to light in February before being swiftly deleted. “After almost 6 months of investigations”, Dalati claims, “I can prove without a doubt that the Douma Hospital scene was staged.”

Continuing in another tweet:

Truth is James Harkin got the basics right in terms of Douma’s “propaganda” value. The ATTACK DID HAPPEN, Sarin wasn’t used, but we’ll have to wait for OPCW to prove Chlorine or otherwise. However, everything else around the attack was manufactured for maximum effect.

In the same thread Dalati added:

I can tell you that Jaysh al-Islam ruled Douma with an iron fist. They coopted activists, doctors and humanitarians with fear and intimidation. In fact, one of the 3 or 4 people filming the scene was Dr. Abu Bakr Hanan, a “brute and shifty” doctor affiliated with Jaysh Al-Islam. The narrative was that “there weren’t enough drs” but here is one filming and not taking part of the rescue efforts. Will keep the rest for later.

As Zerohedge reported at the time:

Interestingly, the BBC’s Dalati had actually first hinted he knew that elements surrounding the Douma attack had been staged a mere days after the incident.

In a now deleted April 11, 2018 tweet, he had stated: “Sick and tired of activists and rebels using corpses of dead children to stage emotive scenes for Western consumption. Then they wonder why some serious journos are questioning part of the narrative.”

Thus far mainstream networks have not picked up on this latest bombshell admission from the BBC producer, but it will be interesting to see if there’s any formal response from the BBC based on the Russian foreign ministry’s request. 3

Click here to read the full report entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden.

*

More recently, a suppressed OPCW report was made public by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media. The following extracts are drawn from an excellent overview put together by Kit Knightly and published at Off-Guardian:

The report, signed by Ian Henderson (an investigative team leader for the OPCW), is an analysis of the two key locations which were used as evidence of the Syrian government launching a chemical attack using chlorine gas in Douma, last year.

These locations, referred to as Location 2 and Location 4 respectively, were made famous by these photographs:

Location 2: “The Patio”

Location 4: “The Bed”

The photographs, “analysed” in depth by Bellingcat and other establishment mouthpieces, were claimed as the “smoking gun”, proof of the Assad’s guilt. However, the OPCW fact-finding mission appears to see things rather differently.

The report is fifteen pages long, detailed and thorough, but the most important paragraph is saved for the end (emphasis ours):

“In summary, observations at the scene of the two locations, together with subsequent analysis, suggest that there is a higher probability that both cylinders were manually placed at those two locations rather than being dropped.”

So there you have it, an apparently genuine OPCW report (kept from the public for as yet unclear reasons), which appears to support the prevailing view of the alt-news community: Douma was staged.

People like Vanessa Beeley and Piers Robinson et al, who have been relentlessly smeared in the mainstream media, have been shown to be right. Again. 4

Click here to read the full article entitled “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” written by Kit Knightly.

*

The corporate media has so far paid little attention to the leaked OPCW document. This can be justified, of course, if as the OPCW contend:

“the individual mentioned in the document has never been a member of the FFM [OPCW Fact-Finding Mission]”

However, the provenance of the document was in fact established by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media prior to publicly releasing it. As they explain:

The report is signed by Ian Henderson, who is listed as one of the first P-5 level inspection team leaders trained at OPCW in a report dated 1998. We have confirmed that as the engineering expert on the FFM, Henderson was assigned to lead the investigation of the cylinders and alleged impact sites at Locations 2 and 4. We understand that “TM” in the handwritten annotation denotes Team Members of the FFM.

Moreover:

The engineering sub-team could not have been carrying out studies in Douma at Locations 2 and 4 unless they had been notified by OPCW to the Syrian National Authority (the body that oversees compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention) as FFM inspectors: it is unlikely that Henderson arrived on a tourist visa.

And lastly:

The sub-team report refers to external collaborators and consultants: we understand that this included two European universities. This external collaboration on such a sensitive matter could not have gone ahead unless it had been authorised: otherwise Henderson would have been dismissed instantly for breach of confidentiality. We can therefore be confident that the preparation of the report had received the necessary authorisation within OPCW. What happened after the report was written is another matter. 5

Click here to read more from the briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media.

One mainstream journalist who did pick up and report on news of the leak is Peter Hitchens:

[A]s I said in my March 9th article ‘On the subject of the cylinders it [the OPCW’s final report] says physical evidence was ‘consistent’ with the view that the cylinders had passed through the concrete roof of the building in which they were found. […]

The leaked document differs sharply from this. So I set out first of all to discover if the OPCW disputed the claim that the leaked document came from within its organisation. As you will see from the response below (As it is mostly flannel, I have highlighted the key words), it does not dispute this. I also asked them to confirm that its named author was in fact an OPCW employee. As you will see from the response below, it declined to confirm the latter. I think, if it had wished to do so, it could have disowned the name person.

I have received the following reply from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons:

‘The OPCW establishes facts surrounding allegations of the use of toxic chemicals for hostile purposes in the Syrian Arab Republic through the Fact-Finding Mission (FFM), which was set up in 2014.

The OPCW Technical Secretariat reaffirms that the FFM complies with established methodologies and practices to ensure the integrity of its findings. The FFM takes into account all available, relevant, and reliable information and analysis within the scope of its mandate to determine its findings.

Per standard practice, the FFM draws expertise from different divisions across the Technical Secretariat as needed.  All information was taken into account, deliberated, and weighed when formulating the final report regarding the incident in Douma, Syrian Arab Republic, on 7 April 2018. On 1 March 2019, the OPCW issued its final report on this incident, signed by the Director-General.

Per OPCW rules and regulations, and in order to ensure the privacy, safety, and security of personnel, the OPCW does not provide information about individual staff members of the Technical Secretariat.

Pursuant to its established policies and practices, the OPCW Technical Secretariat is conducting an internal investigation about the unauthorised release of the document in question. (my emphasis, PH)

 At this time, there is no further public information on this matter and the OPCW is unable to accommodate requests for interviews.’

I thank the OPCW for confirming that the document is genuine. 6

[All emphasis retained from Peter Hitchen’s original article]

Click here to read Peter Hitchen’s full article entitled “Strange News from the OPCW in the Hague” published by the Mail Online.

On the basis of available evidence, the OPCW is a compromised intergovernmental body whose independence can no longer be relied upon. Previously the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media had concluded that:

“It is doubtful whether [OPCW’s] reputation as an impartial monitor of compliance with the Chemical Weapons Convention can be restored without radical reform of its governance and working practices”

On the basis of the latest disclosure, however, their revised statement concludes more forcibly addressing what it describes as “the hijacking of OPCW”:

The new information we have removes all doubt that the organization has been hijacked at the top by France, UK and the US. We have no doubt that most OPCW staff continue to do their jobs professionally, and that some who are uneasy about the direction that the organization has taken nevertheless wish to protect its reputation. However what is at stake here is more than the reputation of the organization: the staged incident in Douma provoked a missile attack by the US, UK and France on 14 April 2018 that could have led to all-out war.

The cover-up of evidence that the Douma incident was staged is not merely misconduct. As the staging of the Douma incident entailed mass murder of civilians, those in OPCW who have suppressed the evidence of staging are, unwittingly or otherwise, colluding with mass murder. 7

You can read the full report here, or see the embedded version below. You are encouraged to download it and share it widely:

*

As the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media rightly assert, there were victims who were killed at Douma. The most graphic video footage shows literally dozens of corpses lying on top of one another, with some appearing to have a kind of froth on their mouths. These victims were originally said to have been sheltering in an underground shelter where the gas canisters were allegedly dropped, although it seems more probable that the scenes are from inside a flat. Embedded below is only uploaded version I can find on youtube – it forms the opening segment to a CNN bulletin [the footage runs from 30–60 secs]:

Back in 2013, Euronews interviewed Stephen Johnson, an expert in weapons and chemical explosives at Cranfield Forensic Institute, who had outlined inconsistencies in footage of patients’ symptoms released following the earliest alleged chemical attacks:

“There are, within some of the videos, examples which seem a little hyper-real, and almost as if they’ve been set up. Which is not to say that they are fake but it does cause some concern. Some of the people with foaming, the foam seems to be too white, too pure, and not consistent with the sort of internal injury you might expect to see, which you’d expect to be bloodier or yellower.”

As the evidence stacks up that the Douma gas attack was entirely staged, the most likely explanation is therefore a macabre one. Jonathan Cook puts it plainly:

An atrocity that appears to be corroborated again by BBC producer Riam Dalati in another of his follow-up tweets:

Russia and at least one NATO country knew about what happened in the hospital. Documents were sent. However, no one knew what really happened at the flats apart from activists manipulating the scene there. This is why Russia focused solely on discrediting the hospital scene.

Tyler Durden, in the same Zerohedge article, writes:

Dalati’s mention of activists at the flats “manipulating the scene there” is a reference to White Helmets and rebel activist produced footage purporting to show the deadly aftermath of a chemical attack inside a second scene — a bombed-out apartment showing dozens of dead bodies. 8

Click here to read Tyler Durden’s full article.

*

One final thought as the corporate media turns a blind eye to the approach of the annual “private gathering” of our senior politicians, business leaders, and other movers and shakers at Bilderberg – with days to go the venue still remains a closely guarded secret – it is noteworthy (as I have noted previously) that Ahmet Üzümcü, the Director-General of the OPCW during the Douma investigation, was in attendance at the Bilderberg conference in Telfs-Buchen, Austria (June 2015) just short of three years prior to the Douma incident. His stay at this secretive conference with its strictly off-the-record political agenda meant rubbing elbows with top brass from Nato, CEOs of the major arms manufactures, and senior politicians including ministers of defence, which clearly compromises the independence and discredits claims of impartiality of this former chief of OPCW. There is a conflict of interests here that needs to be investigated.

*

1 From an article entitled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attacks” written by Robert Fisk, published in The Independent on April 17, 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/voices/syria-chemical-attack-gas-douma-robert-fisk-ghouta-damascus-a8307726.html

2 Witnesses of the alleged chemical attack in Douma, including 11-year-old Hassan Diab and hospital staff, told reporters at The Hague that the White Helmets video used as a pretext for a US-led strike on Syria was, in fact, staged.

“We were at the basement and we heard people shouting that we needed to go to a hospital. We went through a tunnel. At the hospital they started pouring cold water on me,” the boy told the press conference, gathered by Russia’s mission at the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) in The Hague.

3 From an article entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden, published in Zerohedge on February 14, 2019. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-14/bbc-shocks-douma-gas-attack-scene-staged-producer-says-after-6-month-syria

4 From an article entitled “Leaked Report: Douma ‘Chemical Attack’ Likely Staged” written by Kit Knightly, published in Off-Guardian on May 14, 2019. https://off-guardian.org/2019/05/14/leaked-report-douma-chemical-attack-likely-staged/ 

5 From briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, written by Paul McKeigue, David Miller & Piers Robinson.  http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/assessment-by-the-engineering-sub-team-of-the-opcw-fact-finding-mission-investigating-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-in-april-2018

6 From an article entitled “Strange News from the OPCW in the Hague” written by Peter Hitchens, published in the Mail Online on May 16, 2019. https://hitchensblog.mailonsunday.co.uk/2019/05/strange-news-from-the-opcw-in-the-hague-.html

7 From briefing notes provided by the Working Group on Syria, Propaganda and Media, written by Paul McKeigue, David Miller & Piers Robinson.  http://syriapropagandamedia.org/working-papers/assessment-by-the-engineering-sub-team-of-the-opcw-fact-finding-mission-investigating-the-alleged-chemical-attack-in-douma-in-april-2018

8 From an article entitled “BBC Producer’s Syria Bombshell: Douma ‘Gas Attack’ Footage ‘Was Staged’” written by Tyler Durden, published in Zerohedge on February 14, 2019. https://www.zerohedge.com/news/2019-02-14/bbc-shocks-douma-gas-attack-scene-staged-producer-says-after-6-month-syria

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Syria

reports on the ground in Douma contradict the official narrative of a chemical attack

“There is much tut-tutting in Britain by the commentariat about the spread of authoritarianism in the Middle East and Eastern Europe, but less so about the growing limitation on what can be freely expressed at home. Increasingly, anything less than full endorsement of the government line about the poisoning of the Skripals in Salisbury or the suspected gas attack on civilians in Douma in Syria is characterised as support for Putin or Assad.” — Patrick Cockburn

*

Since Syrian forces recaptured Douma, a few western reporters have entered and spoken with eyewitnesses on the ground. The two main reports I have read or seen so far are consistent and both contradict the official narrative that the area was subject to any kind of chemical weapons attack.

(Note that: all transcripts below are my own.)

Robert Fisk:

Robert Fisk is one of the best known mainstream war reporters. Writing in The Independent yesterday, he reported testimony of an eyewitness named Dr Assim Rahaibani who tells him that the video footage shot inside the clinic is “perfectly genuine”, although it is not showing victims of a chemical attack:

War stories, however, have a habit of growing darker. For the same 58-year old senior Syrian doctor then adds something profoundly uncomfortable: the patients, he says, were overcome not by gas but by oxygen starvation in the rubbish-filled tunnels and basements in which they lived, on a night of wind and heavy shelling that stirred up a dust storm.

Fisk then adds:

Before we go any further, readers should be aware that this is not the only story in Douma. There are the many people I talked to amid the ruins of the town who said they had “never believed in” gas stories – which were usually put about, they claimed, by the armed Islamist groups.

Continuing with the story of eyewitness Dr Rahaibani, Fisk writes:

“I was with my family in the basement of my home three hundred metres from here on the night but all the doctors know what happened. There was a lot of shelling [by government forces] and aircraft were always over Douma at night – but on this night, there was wind and huge dust clouds began to come into the basements and cellars where people lived. People began to arrive here suffering from hypoxia, oxygen loss. Then someone at the door, a “White Helmet”, shouted “Gas!”, and a panic began. People started throwing water over each other. Yes, the video was filmed here, it is genuine, but what you see are people suffering from hypoxia – not gas poisoning.”

Fisk has a style of writing that sometimes drifts toward ambiguity. It is as if he doesn’t dare tell the truth straight but he can hint at it. So read his next paragraph carefully and please make up your own mind to what he is trying to say:

The White Helmets – the medical first responders already legendary in the West but with some interesting corners to their own story – played a familiar role during the battles. They are partly funded by the Foreign Office and most of the local offices were staffed by Douma men. I found their wrecked offices not far from Dr Rahaibani’s clinic. A gas mask had been left outside a food container with one eye-piece pierced and a pile of dirty military camouflage uniforms lay inside one room. Planted, I asked myself? I doubt it. The place was heaped with capsules, broken medical equipment and files, bedding and mattresses.

Click here to read Robert Fisk’s full report entitled “The search for truth in the rubble of Douma – and one doctor’s doubts over the chemical attack”.

*

Pearson Sharp:

The conservative and erstwhile pro-Trump news channel One America News Network  sent reporter Pearson Sharp to Douma. He says that he has spoken with a great many witnesses, none of whom believe there was a chemical attack:

So we just randomly went up to different people – no-one came up to us – and interviewed probably about 30 or 40 people throughout the town. And consistently not one person in the entire town that we talked to said that they had seen or heard anything about a chemical attack.

They said that they had lived there for seven to fifteen years – some of them – so you know they were long time residents of the area. And many of them were very close to the site that was allegedly attacked on the day that it was allegedly attacked. One man said that he was within 50 metres at the time they say it was attacked and he heard and saw nothing outside of the ordinary.

When I asked them what they thought the chemical attack was, they told me, all of them told me that it was staged by the rebels: the rebels who were occupying the town at that time. They said that it was a fabrication. That it was a hoax. And when I asked them why, they told me that it was because the rebels were desperate and they needed a ploy to help get the Syrian army off their backs so they can escape… That story was told to us by numerous people.

[from 2:40 mins]

Sharp says he also visited the square which was the “ground zero” of the alleged attack as well as the nearby hospital where he spoke with other eyewitnesses who did not see any evidence of a chemical attack, although they did see the events captured on videotape:

It’s not clear exactly where the strike happened in that square but it was that square… so I walked around it and looked at everything. There was some mortars that had exploded in the concrete, but nothing looked like a chemical attack… There were soldiers there. There were military police there. They said they had been stationed there for a while and they hadn’t seen anything that day.

They did point out to me that there was a hospital nearby – which is right off the square actually – that had a basement two or three storeys underground, where there was an emergency field hospital that had been used by the terrorists to treat their wounded. And so we looked around and one of the buildings in that area – there are several (they’re all about 15 storeys) – one of the buildings in the area had a large bulwark of dirt built up around the edges to apparently protect it from strikes so that people inside wouldn’t be hurt. And we walked around and there was a tunnel carved into the side of that you could walk down into it and that was where they’d built this makeshift hospital.

And it was actually very sophisticated, they had a carpark, a garage, they had maintenance bays: things like that. And we walked down a couple of floors underground and into the room – the hospital room that you see in all the videos where the people are being hosed off. And it’s still being used right now as a hospital. There’s still doctors there taking care of people but now those doctors are working for the government instead of working for Jaish al-Islam terrorists.

So I spoke to one of the doctors. He was a doctor in training right now, and he was on duty at the time of the attack that day. And I asked him what he saw that day and he told me that it was a routine day for him. He said it was very dusty that day, so a lot of people were coming in coughing. You know just irritation to the throat and things like that. And normal war injuries because you know it was part of the war zone occupied by the terrorists. And they said that there was nothing out of the ordinary, and while they were going about their rounds suddenly – out of nowhere – they said a bunch of strangers burst into the room screaming that there was a chemical attack.

And they brought in allegedly victims and started hosing them down with water. And so the doctors you know they freaked out and they grabbed hoses and started helping. And the strangers who brought in the victims were videotaping everything… they brought in cameras and they were filming everything and as soon as they’d washed everybody off and stuff, they packed up and they left. And that was the end of it.

[from 5:50 mins]

*

Vanessa Beeley:

Independent journalist Vanessa Beeley has been reporting events on the ground in Syria for many years. On the Ron Paul Liberty Report broadcast today, she spoke with presenter Daniel McAdams who asked what she was hearing about events in Douma. She says that Robert Fisk’s report is in line with testimony broadcast by Arabic channels given by two doctors who said they were inside the hospital at the time of the alleged attack:

So basically Robert Fisk has gone in and through talking to civilians there he is confirming the same narrative that this was definitely a staged event.

The US and the UK and France are claiming that they have this sort of “secret evidence” but they don’t seem to be able to get much beyond the social media chatter, which The Pentagon was also basing its entire findings upon.

[from 8:10 mins]

Daniel McAdams: But what do you make of the gruesome pictures of bodies, particularly of children’s bodies? You know we have seen them. People will say well how can you dispute this: look at these bodies.

Vanessa Beeley: Look this is very difficult to say without actually having been in there and without actually talking to people. But one thing has to be made very clear: Jaish al-Islam, which is he Saudi-financed group that was occupying Douma, had held thousands of prisoners, many of them kidnapped in Adra, an area to the north, in 2013 (women and children).

It’s very difficult to speculate because as I say I haven’t spoken to civilians there to see whether the scenes that you’re seeing were filmed – you know of the bodies themselves – certainly there are a lot of anomalies about those images. I mean I think even one BBC researcher [I will add the name when I have it] pointed out the fact that the bodies had been rearranged after the initial event. They’d been moved and placed in a position for the greatest photographic impact.

Now when I was in another area of Eastern Ghouta in Zamalka which was one of the areas affected in 2013 by the then alleged chemical weapon attack, I did speak to civilians who told me of the staging of events and of the kidnapping of children to be used in those events – the drugging of those children and the fact that many parents there who lost children in these alleged [chemical weapons] attacks did not see their children before they were buried.

So what I’m in the process of doing right now is just piecing together the testimonies that I’m getting from these various areas in Eastern Ghouta. So it’s very hard to draw firm conclusions right now, but certainly it’s looking as if many of these events were staged. Many of them were you know psyops basically to facilitate further military intervention on a humanitarian basis.

[from 8:35 mins]

I will try to update this post as and when there are further reports.

*

Update:

German ZDF correspondent, Uli Gack, travelled to Syria and visited one of the refugee camps near Damacus “where over 20,000 people escaped from eastern areas – and above all from Douma”. On the basis of received testimony, he reported differently to the accounts embedded above although as he did confirm on April 20th on ZDF Heute that “this whole story on April 7th was staged”.

Presenter: “You were in a big refugee camp today and talked to a lot of people. What did you hear about the attack?”

Uli Gack: “We just came back from Harjalla. This is a place about five kilometers away from here, and where over 20,000 people escaped from eastern areas – and above all from Douma. And the people there told us in a tone of conviction, that this whole story on 7 April was staged by ISIS. They said that this place of action was a command post of the Islamists. There, the Islamists had set up chlorine containers and, in general, just waited for this highly interesting target for the Syrian air force to be bombed – that’s what happened. And the chlorine gas tanks exploded. And people also assert with conviction that there were several such provocations in Douma. They also tell us of a so-called exercise by ISIS, where different people had been exposed to chlorine gas, that was filmed and then was given as material evidence that was published on 7th April. Whether that is true or not, I would not stick my neck out for every sentence, but somehow there seems to be something to it.”

Presenter: “But if this is the case why would the Russians want to prevent the inspectors from carrying out their examinations? Is that not a total contradiction?”

Uli Gack: “It is a complete contradiction. Absolutely. But if we look at places like Homs or Aleppo or, lastly, Mosul, you have to look at their underground tunnels which are like Swiss cheese and where, weeks later, again and again organized cells break out of the ground and carry out attacks or armed raids, then there is still some danger for this inspection team. And that’s why Russia says it just cannot leave people there lest that is the case. Whether that’s true or not, whether there’s something to it, we don’t know but in fact, the longer time passes since April 7th, the harder it is to detect potentially degraded chlorine gas, and it’s likely to be nearly impossible to determine authorship.”

Presenter: “Many thanks. Uli Gack.”

[This translation is courtesy of the youtube uploader.]

*

On April 18th Sputnik released an interview of 11 year-old Hassan Diab who had featured in the hospital footage shot by the White Helmets:

They also spoke with Baraa Badran who works at the hospital. He told them: “we didn’t see any chemical attack symptoms here” [from 2:00 mins].

*

Further Update:

More recently both Vanessa Beeley and Canadian journalist Eva Bartlett visited Saqba in eastern Ghouta where they reported on a large building complex formerly occupied by the White Helmets. This site is located just a few hundred yards from the bomb making factory of Faylaq al-Rahman where mortars and missiles were manufactured ready to fire on civilians in Damascus.

Eva Bartlett writes:

Corporate media does not deign to report that over 11,000 civilians were killed in Damascus alone by such mortar and missile attacks. Hardest hit were Damascus’ old city, where I’ve spent weeks and weeks in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017 and now 2018. Thankfully, unlike prior years, now the old city is not being pounded daily by these mortars. But in prior years, the attacks on civilian areas was relentless and brutal. Following are links related to such attacks.

Click here to read Eva Bartlett’s full report on her own website In Gaza.

Vanessa Beeley discusses the same complex in a highly-informative interview given on May 1st on UK Column news [from 39:40 mins]:

*

On May 11th, Eva Bartlett discussed her visit to Douma in an interview with Dan Dicks of Press for Truth:

*

This quote was also added as an update.

Cockburn continues:

“A telling instance of this new authoritarianism is the denunciations of a party of Christian clergy and peers who have been visiting Syria to meet church dignitaries and government officials. This is an understandable mission for concerned British Christians because Christians in Syria can do with all the solidarity they can get as they are forced to flee or are kidnapped or murdered by Isis, al-Qaeda or the Muslim Brotherhood. Like many Syrians, they see their choice as not being between good and bad but between bad and worse. They generally prefer survival under Assad to likely extinction under his enemies.

“Visiting embattled members of the depleted Christian community in Syria is a good thing to do. And, yes, it could be said that the presence of British Christians in Damascus is very marginally helpful to Assad, in much the same way that Peter Arnett’s truthful report on the baby milk in Abu Ghraib must have pleased Saddam Hussein. The Foreign Office said the Christians’ visit was “not helpful” but then helping the British state should not be their prime concern.

“None of the arguments currently being used in Britain and the US to smear those sceptical of the governmental and media consensus are new. The Bolsheviks used to denounce people who said or did things they did not like as “objectively” being fascists or counter-revolutionaries. When those being denounced, often only a preliminary to being shot, replied that they were no such thing, the Bolsheviks would reply: “tell us who supports you and we will tell you who you are”. In other words, the only thing that matters is what side you are on.”

From an article entitled “In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical” written by Patrick Cockburn published in Counterpunch on April 23, 2018. https://www.counterpunch.org/2018/04/23/in-middle-east-wars-it-pays-to-be-skeptical/  

 

1 Comment

Filed under Syria

Paul Mason speaks for many on the liberal left, unfortunately…

In a ‘one size fits all’ paroxysm of despair, former BBC business editor and current odd job man at Channel 4 news, Paul Mason writes in Monday’s [Jan 11th] Guardian:

It is impossible to view this global rise of rage, ethnic conflict, victimisation and the curtailment of democratic norms with anything other than alarm. In particular, because it is happening on the cusp of a second global economic downturn. The collapse of growth in those middle-income countries dependent on commodities, combined with mass unemployment in southern Europe and the stagnation of China, may not produce another catastrophic financial event. But it does not need to. The route to a different kind of catastrophe is all too clear, as countries resort to trade embargoes, currency war and overt manipulation of the oil supply as geopolitical tools. The result is likely to be the deglobalisation of the world; the political destabilisation of the emerging economies; more floods of refugees from conflict zones the west cannot be bothered to engage with. 1

I don’t disagree. Not in spirit, at least. But I have trouble with Mason’s worries about ‘deglobalisation’, as if globalisation has been some kind of panacea. Moreover, I have tremendous difficulty swallowing the hook at the end of his line: his forecast that “the deglobalisation of the world” may result in “more floods of refugees from conflict zones the west cannot be bothered to engage with”. The highlight is mine. For such outrageous fairytales deserve to be put up in lights – has Paul Mason been asleep for the last decade or did he simply bang his head on something hard before putting pen to paper?

Back in the land of reality, the RAF had just deployed Hellfire and Brimstone missiles in Syria reportedly to target an oilfield. 2 While in Mosul, the US was dropping two enormous 2,000-pound bombs to destroy a bank because it was allegedly holding “millions” in terrorist funds:

Papers and burnt furniture littered the concrete and steel rubble of several buildings that appeared to have been destroyed by the bombing, the video showed. Debris hung from dust-covered tree limbs, and rescuers pulled an old man’s bloodied body from the remains.

Footage from inside a damaged apartment building suggested civilian areas had also been hit. 3

Perhaps the dropping of the bombs deliberately into the middle of a densely populated urban centre to burn a few banknotes is not an ‘engagement’? Indeed, back in the land of fairytales, we are led to believe that by virtue of meticulous planning by the Pentagon, civilian casualties were minimised. Of course they were: our bombs are good bombs, and the bigger they get the more surgical they become, only ever killing the innocent by accident. In any case, the damage to the terrorist’s collateral was more than worth a bit of minor “collateral damage”.

Then we have Yemen:

Only six of our British military chaps, it seems, are helping the Sunni Saudis kill Shia Yemenis. And they’re not actually in Yemen, merely helping to choose the targets – which have so far included hospitals, markets, a wedding party and a site opposite the Iranian embassy. Not that our boys and girls selected those particular “terrorist” nests for destruction, you understand. They’re just helping their Saudi mates – in the words of our Ministry of Defence – “comply to the rules of war”.

Saudi “rules”, of course, are not necessarily the same as “our” rules – although our drone-executions of UK citizens leave a lot of elbow-room for our British warriors in Riyadh. But I couldn’t help chuckling when I read the condemnation of David Mephan [sic], the Human Rights Watch director. Yes, he told us that the Saudis “are committing multiple violations of the laws of war in Yemen”, and that the British “are working hand in glove with the Saudis, helping them, enhancing their capacity to prosecute this war that has led to the death of so many civilians”. Spot on. But then he added that he thought all this “deeply regrettable and unacceptable”.

“Regrettable” and “unacceptable” represent the double standards we employ when our wealthy Saudi friends put their hands to bloody work. To find something “regrettable” means it causes us sadness. It disappoints us. The implication is that the good old Saudis have let us down, fallen from their previously high moral principles. 4

Click here to read the full article by Robert Fisk.

Leaving aside the US, Britain and Nato, no nation (and certainly no family) engages more vigorously in the “conflict zones” than our best friends the Saudis. But then, of course, our despots are good despots, in part because, the richer they get, the more  of our armaments they procure.

Paul Mason says:

“Our best shot at avoiding chaos comes from reinvigorating the institutions whose neglect lie at the root of the situation: the UN, the International Criminal Court, the Geneva conventions and national democracies encroached upon by arbitrary power and hereditary elites. And principles – such as privacy, the rule of law, restraint and proportionality.”

Which is a fine sentiment, if upside-side. Since before any of these institutions can be “reinvigorated” (I would say ‘rescued’ – if this is even possible), we must tackle the root cause: how to rollback the ‘encroachment’, as Mason meekly describes it, of “arbitrary power and hereditary elites”? Because international bodies like the World Bank, IMF, WTO and our own ECB and EU Commission became vampiric long ago and it is unwise to attempt merely to resuscitate any of them.

And the reality we face is a product of globalisation – that unholy alliance of western governments, transnational corporations and the largest NGOs – and by no means a consequence of its overly exaggerated decline. It is why, for instance, the head of a major human rights organisation, David Mepham, and others like him, only feign impartiality. They all pee in the same pot.

Mason rightly alerts us to the quickening rise of fascism, but he sees it only in its most grotesque displays: the foul-mouthed demagoguery of Donald Trump, the neo-Nazi rallies of Pegida in the homeland of Hitler, and the murderous folly of Erdoğan in his rush to establish a new Ottoman Empire. But this spectre of fascism has been with us ever since 9/11, and its stench is only a more concentrated fug of globalisation: that ‘open conspiracy’ to merger all state and corporate interests – the vision is Mussolini’s.

Our democracies are no longer ‘encroached’ upon by “arbitrary powers” but captured and held hostage to them. In fact, other than in name, our nations have ceased to function as democracies. We live instead under plutocratic governance.

It is this process we must seek to reverse. And we might begin perhaps by calling the criminals out by name. Certainly, we must end any ridiculous pretence that the Middle East somehow caught fire by accident.

Bush and Blair were the chief arsonists in Iraq and Afghanistan; Obama and Cameron then stoked the flames, sent drones to Pakistan and Yemen and – with Saudi help – set Libya and Syria ablaze. They did it for no other reason than to promote the special interests of the plutocrats. Surely no-one in their right mind would put any of these arsonists in charge of extinguishing their own fires. Just as no-one in their right mind truly believes the situation has worsened due to any lack of western “engagement”. There has been no end whatsoever to US, British and Nato “engagement” and there remains no end in sight – that’s the problem. Refusing to acknowledge this is another failure of too many on the liberal left.

Mason ends by saying:

Even as I write that, I realise how meagre these forces have become when ranged against the emotive power of revenge, hatred, racism, and the public celebration of ignorance and irrationality. But they are all we have.

So I ask him this: from whence did it come, this seething cauldron of “hatred, racism, and the public celebration of ignorance and irrationality”? He knows the answer, of course – the media he works for has been stirring it all along. So here’s another thing we urgently need to reverse. I wonder if Paul Mason is prepared to face up to the task.

Click here to read the full article by Paul Mason.

1 From an article entitled “As Mein Kampf returns to Germany, the world is again awash with hatred”, written by Paul Mason, published in the Guardian on January 11, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/jan/11/mein-kampf-returns-to-germany-world-awash-with-hatred

2 http://www.theguardian.com/politics/2016/jan/11/raf-conducts-four-airstrikes-on-isis-in-syria

3 From an article entitled “ISIS video shows destruction from U.S. airstrike on Mosul bank” published by Reuters on January 12, 2016. http://www.reuters.com/article/us-mideast-crisis-usa-cash-idUSKCN0UQ13V20160112

4 From an article entitled “The Saudi Rules” written by Robert Fisk, published in Counterpunch on January 12, 2016. http://www.counterpunch.org/2016/01/12/the-saudi-rules/

Leave a comment

Filed under Saudi Arabia, Yemen

The New Great Game: “Pax Americana” from Syria to Uzbekistan to the Ukraine

*

Recent historical background

Embedded above is one of the most frequently cited (at least by alternative news outlets) political interviews of the past decade. Broadcast by Democracy Now! on March 2nd, 2007, it features Gen. Wesley Clark discussing US foreign policy in the post-9/11 era. The reason for its notoriety being the statement Clark makes during the opening three minutes, when he informs the world of how he learned about Pentagon plans to “take out seven countries in five years”:

About ten days after 9/11, I went through the Pentagon and I saw Secretary Rumsfeld and Deputy Secretary Wolfowitz. I went downstairs and just to say hello to some of the people on the Joint Staff who used to work for me, and one of the generals called me and he said, “Sir, you’ve gotta come in and talk to me a second.”

I said, “Well, you’re too busy.”

He said “No, we’ve made the decision we’re going to war with Iraq.” This was on or about the 20th of September.

I said, “We’re going to war with Iraq – why?”

He said, “I don’t know…” [audience laughs] He said, “I guess they don’t know what else to do.”

So I said, “Well did they find some information connecting Saddam to al-Qaeda?”

He said, “No, no, there’s nothing new that way. They just made the decision to go to war with Iraq.” He said, “I guess it’s like we don’t know what to do about terrorists, but we’ve got a good military and we can take down governments.” And he said, “I guess if the only tool you have is a hammer, every problem has to look like a nail.”

So I came back to see him a few weeks later, and by that time we were bombing in Afghanistan, and I said, “Are we still going to war with Iraq?”

He said, “Oh, it’s worse than that. He reached over on his desk and picked up a piece of paper, and he said, “I just got this down from upstairs from the Secretary of Defense’s office today” and he said, “This is a memo that describes how we’re going to take out seven countries in five years. Starting with Iraq, and then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Somalia, Sudan and finishing off, Iran.”

Wesley Clark’s testimony is important because it is revealing, at the same time though, I find his professed surprise at the revelations coming from “upstairs” more than a little hard to believe. After all, both Donald Rumsfeld and Paul Wolfowitz, men who Clark says he had only just seen on the day in question (and ones he presumably met with on a quite regular basis), are both Signatories to Statement of Principles of the now notorious Project for the New American Century (PNAC) neo-con think tank. A statement of intent had been signed by them and other notables, including Dick Cheney, more than four years prior to the 9/11 attacks on June 3rd 1997. It begins:

As the 20th century draws to a close, the United States stands as the world’s pre-eminent power. Having led the West to victory in the Cold War, America faces an opportunity and a challenge: Does the United States have the vision to build upon the achievements of past decades? Does the United States have the resolve to shape a new century favorable to American principles and interests?

Unfortunately, the complete founding PNAC statement is hard to track down, but then we can no doubt judge the group’s geostrategic ambitions better from a few of its less public documents. For instance, a PNAC letter to President George W. Bush advocating “a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.” It was received on September 20th, 2001 – so again at precisely the time when Clark was being privately briefed by that unnamed general at the Pentagon. This letter from PNAC co-founder William Kristol “& others” read:

We agree with Secretary of State Powell’s recent statement that Saddam Hussein “is one of the leading terrorists on the face of the Earth….” It may be that the Iraqi government provided assistance in some form to the recent attack on the United States. But even if evidence does not link Iraq directly to the attack, any strategy aiming at the eradication of terrorism and its sponsors must include a determined effort to remove Saddam Hussein from power in Iraq.

Click here to find the complete letter to Bush.

But most damning of all the PNAC documents is its notorious ninety-page report entitled Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategies, Forces, and Resources For a New Century. Released almost precisely one year prior to the 9/11 attacks, it calls for “a global Pax Americana” – which might be translated as ‘America uber alles’; for the betterment of all obviously – and looks forward to “some catastrophic and catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor.” In part five of this report, entitled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”, we discover their blueprint for “full spectrum dominance”. The details of “Transforming U.S. Conventional Forces” requiring (amongst other things):

The proliferation of ballistic and cruise missiles and long-range unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) will make it much easier to project military power around the globe. Munitions themselves will become increasingly accurate, while new methods of attack – electronic, “nonlethal,” biological – will be more widely available. […]

Although it may take several decades for the process of transformation to unfold, in time, the art of warfare on air, land, and sea will be vastly different than it is today, and “combat” likely will take place in new dimensions: in space, “cyber-space,” and perhaps the world of microbes. Air warfare may no longer be fought by pilots manning tactical fighter aircraft sweeping the skies of opposing fighters, but a regime dominated by long-range, stealthy unmanned craft. On land, the clash of massive, combined-arms armored forces may be replaced by the dashes of much lighter, stealthier and information-intensive forces, augmented by fleets of robots, some small enough to fit in soldiers’ pockets. Control of the sea could be largely determined not by fleets of surface combatants and aircraft carriers, but from land- and space-based systems, forcing navies to maneuver and fight underwater. Space itself will become a theater of war, as nations gain access to space capabilities and come to rely on them; further, the distinction between military and commercial space systems – combatants and noncombatants – will become blurred. Information systems will become an important focus of attack, particularly for U.S. enemies seeking to short-circuit sophisticated American forces. And advanced forms of biological warfare that can “target” specific genotypes may transform biological warfare from the realm of terror to a politically useful tool.

Click here to read the full PNAC document Rebuilding America’s Defenses.

The document reads like the wet dream of Dr Strangelove, but then the PNAC crowd (now officially disbanded) were all lunatics, of course. Like Strangelove, they were fascist madmen who suddenly had the ear of the US President. As a consequence, much of this brave new world of warfare was quickly established under Bush; the Obama administration then adhering to a similar doctrine. Expansionist wars by means of such high tech armaments as the “long-range, stealthy unmanned craft” as described by PNAC back in 2000, becoming so unexceptional that the public got into the habit of forgetting all about them.

Likewise, Obama has continued to press ahead with the same neo-con agenda of destabilisation which Wesley Clark warned about in 2007. The only really significant difference has been the rhetoric. Regime change in Libya justified as humanitarian from the get-go, as has been the ongoing campaign for the overthrow of Assad in Syria. But then, the White House can hardly be expected to publicly announce that it is covertly supporting al-Qaeda factions to those ends.

Almost six months has now passed since just such an unlikely shift in policy was on the verge of actually taking shape – it would take the crossing of Obama’s “red line”, but the US was very much poised to take up arms on the side of al-Qaeda (not that the White House were about to explain matters in such honest terms – the air strikes would only be aiding the good rebels). By then, US warships had been moved to the Eastern Mediterranean and were already on heightened alert. With the atrocity at Ghouta, John Kerry especially, was keen to seize on the opportunity, saying “We know a senior Syrian official discussed the attack and was afraid they’d be discovered”, before announcing to the world:

“This crime against conscience, this crime against humanity, this matters to us. It matter[s] to us and who we are. It matters to leadership and our credibility in the world. It matters if nothing is done – if the world speaks out in condemnation, and nothing happens.”1

But Kerry was lying about the intelligence, and, as Seymour Hersh has since explained at length, the US couldn’t possibly have known that either Assad had given the go-ahead, or even that those within the Syrian army had launched any attack, with or without his express permission. And more recent evidence further challenges those US allegations that had brought us so close to a major international conflagration:

[But] The authors of a report released Wednesday said that their study of the rocket’s design, its likely payload and its possible trajectories show that it would have been impossible for the rocket to have been fired from inside areas controlled by the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad.2

This was the verdict of a report entitled “Possible Implications of Faulty U.S. Technical Intelligence” produced by a team of security and arms experts who met last month in Washington, as reported by McClatchy in mid January.

Click here to read the full article.

Refusing to be sidetracked by a few inconvenient details, like Kerry, Obama was eager to respond. Responding, that is, in the only way US administrations appear able to respond these days – with every problem jutting up like a nail that is in need of a good hammering down. The aerial bombing of Damascus would doubtless have started within days except that something completely unexpected then occurred – British MPs voting down the government. Following which, we saw another extraordinarily rapid change of circumstances as Russia persuaded the Syrian regime to entirely surrender its chemical weapons arsenal. A deal brokered by Sergei Lavrov meant that Kerry and Obama could at least save face. Thus the tensions between Russia and the West, which had been on the verge of snapping, eased a little. There was one less arsenal of WMDs in the world, and though a horrible civil war continued, at least the people of Syrian wouldn’t be subjected to the kinds of “shock and awe” we saw first over Baghdad and more latterly Tripoli and at Sirte.

With the removal of Syria’s WMDs, Obama salvaged a little dignity, but his veil of being the peacemaker, already wearing thin, had suddenly been ripped off altogether. Here is what John Pilger wrote last September, less than a month after the gas attack on Ghouta:

Under the “weak” Obama, militarism has risen perhaps as never before. With not a single tank on the White House lawn, a military coup has taken place in Washington. In 2008, while his liberal devotees dried their eyes, Obama accepted the entire Pentagon of his predecessor, George Bush: its wars and war crimes. As the constitution is replaced by an emerging police state, those who destroyed Iraq with shock and awe, piled up the rubble in Afghanistan and reduced Libya to a Hobbesian nightmare, are ascendant across the US administration. Behind their beribboned facade, more former US soldiers are killing themselves than are dying on battlefields. Last year 6,500 veterans took their own lives. Put out more flags.

The historian Norman Pollack calls this “liberal fascism”: “For goose-steppers substitute the seemingly more innocuous militarisation of the total culture. And for the bombastic leader, we have the reformer manqué, blithely at work, planning and executing assassination, smiling all the while.” Every Tuesday the “humanitarian” Obama personally oversees a worldwide terror network of drones that “bugsplat” people, their rescuers and mourners. In the west’s comfort zones, the first black leader of the land of slavery still feels good, as if his very existence represents a social advance, regardless of his trail of blood. This obeisance to a symbol has all but destroyed the US anti-war movement – Obama’s singular achievement.3

Click here to read the full article at John Pilger’s own website.

 *

Syria

The civil war in Syria is three years old. Millions have been displaced, thousands are dying each week, and there appears little end in sight to the bloody stalemate. It is, as we are frequently reminded, a humanitarian crisis. During the first round of the Geneva II summit, John Kerry said:

Now, lost in the daily reports of violence is the fact that this revolution did not begin as an armed resistance. This started peacefully. It was started by schoolboys in Daraa who are armed only with graffiti cans, citizens who were peacefully and legitimately calling for change. And they were met almost immediately with violence. When their parents came out to protest the arrest of the children, 120 people died. That was the beginning.

And tragically, the Assad regime answered peaceful demonstration after peaceful demonstration with ever-increasing force. In the three years since then, this conflict has now left more than 130,000 dead, and it’s hard to count accurately. We all know that. The fact is that these people have been killed by guns, by tanks, by artillery, by gas, by barrel bombs, by Scud missiles.

They’ve been killed by weapons almost exclusively of the magnitude not possessed by the opposition. Starvation has been used as a weapon of war. And most recently, we have seen horrific reports of systematic torture and execution of thousands of prisoners. This is an appalling assault, not only on human lives, but on human dignity and on every standard by which the international community tries to organize itself, recognizing the horrors of the humanitarian catastrophe that has unfolded, the destabilization of neighboring countries, and the endless exile of refugees.4

In short, Bashar Assad and the incumbent Syrian regime are solely responsible, Kerry says, whether directly or indirectly, for every death and all of the horror of the past three years. But how can this be true when a civil war is raging that involves at least three opposing sides? So Kerry’s version of events plays down the many atrocities carried out by a plethora ‘al-Qaeda affiliated’ factions. War crimes such as forced ‘suicide bombings’, throwing people from buildings, and very possibly including gas attacks like the one at Ras al-Ayn in the northern province of al-Hasakah that appear to have been launched by “rebel forces”.5 This is what Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative journalist Seymour Hersh wrote last December in the opening paragraph of an article entitled “Whose sarin?”:

Barack Obama did not tell the whole story this autumn when he tried to make the case that Bashar al-Assad was responsible for the chemical weapons attack near Damascus on 21 August. In some instances, he omitted important intelligence, and in others he presented assumptions as facts. Most significant, he failed to acknowledge something known to the US intelligence community: that the Syrian army is not the only party in the country’s civil war with access to sarin, the nerve agent that a UN study concluded – without assessing responsibility – had been used in the rocket attack. In the months before the attack, the American intelligence agencies produced a series of highly classified reports, culminating in a formal Operations Order – a planning document that precedes a ground invasion – citing evidence that the al-Nusra Front, a jihadi group affiliated with al-Qaida, had mastered the mechanics of creating sarin and was capable of manufacturing it in quantity. When the attack occurred al-Nusra should have been a suspect, but the administration cherry-picked intelligence to justify a strike against Assad.6

Click here to read Seymour Hersh’s full report.

Roaming across Syria there are gangs of fundamentalists who proudly upload footage of their own bloodlust including public beheadings and acts of cannibalism. But Kerry has nothing of note to say about this either. Not even when those same factions are known to be fighting against and murdering one another. Is the Syrian government also responsible when one arm of al-Qaeda is killing the other?

Nor does Kerry make any comment about al-Qaeda’s immediate backers at home in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, nor level some of the blame at Turkey who have been providing assistance by allowing many of these Jihadists to slip across into Syria in the first place. Instead, he blames Assad and the Syrian government for the very acts of terrorism they are fighting against, saying:

So just as there could be no place for the perpetrator of this violence, there could also be no place for the thousands of violent extremists who spread their hateful ideology and worsen the suffering of the Syrian people. And as we hear talk about terrorism today, make no mistake: It is the presence of the current intransigence within the existing government that makes this problem worse. That is creating a magnet for terrorists. And until a transition takes place, there is no prayer of reducing the increase of terrorism.

Kerry’s concern is entirely one-dimensional. He wants regime change. And he stresses this demand without any evident concern for what will very likely fill the power vacuum left behind. A catastrophe of the kind that followed in the wake of other instances of regime change, such as in Iraq (after the fall of the brutal dictatorship of Saddam Hussein) and Libya (with dictator Gaddafi ousted). Like Bush and the rest of the neo-con ramble, he also shows a casual disregard for international law which was set up, in part, to protect the sovereign right of nations. Immediate decapitation, Kerry says, is the only permissible solution:

Mutual consent, which is what has brought us here, for a transition government means that that government cannot be formed with someone that is objected to by one side or the other. That means that Bashar Assad will not be part of that transition government. There is no way – no way possible in the imagination – that the man who has led the brutal response to his own people could regain the legitimacy to govern.

Mark Twain famously remarked that “history doesn’t repeat, but it rhymes” and the recent history of US-backed regime change shows just how regular and tight the pattern of rhyming has now become. The governments of Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya were all dictatorships, of course, and all had extremely poor human rights records, but regime change did not bring salvation in the form of freedom and democracy, it instead unleashed perpetual war.

Syria is yet another dictatorship with its own extremely poor human rights record. Not that this comes as news to Washington. Back when Assad had been in favour, his government, just like Gaddafi’s, had usefully provided facilities for the torture of America’s own prisoners under the secret programme of “extraordinary rendition”:

Iran’s proxy Syria did torture on behalf of the United States. The most famous case involves Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen snatched in 2002 by the U.S. at John F. Kennedy International Airport before the CIA sent him to Syria under the mistaken impression he was a terrorist. In Syrian custody, Arar was “imprisoned for more than ten months in a tiny grave-like cell, beaten with cables, and threatened with electric shocks by the Syrian government,” [chief Open Society Foundation investigator, Amrit] Singh writes.

But it wasn’t just Arar. At least seven others were rendered to Syria. Among their destinations: a prison in west Damascus called the Palestine Branch, which features an area called “the Grave,” comprised of “individual cells that were roughly the size of coffins.” Syrian intelligence reportedly uses something called a “German Chair” to “stretch the spine.”7

America’s “black sites” are still open and the “extraordinary rendition” flights continued under Obama and, so far as we know, continue today. As for appeals to human rights, these reassurances are only for a public increasingly unwilling to go to war. In the ranks of the policymakers the discussion has been more strictly along these lines:

The Syrian rebels would be immeasurably weaker today without al-Qaeda in their ranks. By and large, Free Syrian Army (FSA) battalions are tired, divided, chaotic, and ineffective. Feeling abandoned by the West, rebel forces are increasingly demoralized as they square off with the Assad regime’s superior weaponry and professional army. Al-Qaeda fighters, however, may help improve morale. The influx of jihadis brings discipline, religious fervor, battle experience from Iraq, funding from Sunni sympathizers in the Gulf, and most importantly, deadly results. In short, the FSA needs al-Qaeda now.8

Taken from an article published by the Council on Foreign Relations back in August 2012.

*

Uzbekistan

To put all of this into a bigger perspective, I think it is helpful to go back again to the story of Craig Murray. Today, Craig Murray is recognised as one of the foremost political bloggers and is a well-known human rights activist in Britain. A decade ago, however, he was battling against serious illness and also on the verge of being sacked as British ambassador to Uzbekistan. The story of how he came to finally lose his job in October 2004 is long on details but can be summed up in just a few paragraphs.

Murray was, by his own account “a reluctant whistleblower”. At first he tried to alert his superiors at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) by sending confidential diplomatic telegrams (Americans call these ‘cables’) advising them that the Uzbek regime was involved in the widespread use of (what he later described as) “the most horrible forms of torture imaginable” against its opponents and including the torture of children in front of their parents.9

In the first telegram sent on 16th September 2002, Murray had written:

President Karimov has admitted to 100 executions a year but human rights groups believe there are more. Added to this, all opposition parties remain banned (the President got a 98% vote) and the Internet is strictly controlled. All Internet providers must go through a single government server and access is barred to many sites including all dissident and opposition sites and much international media (including, ironically, waronterrorism.com). This is in essence still a totalitarian state: there is far less freedom than still prevails, for example, in Mugabe’s Zimbabwe. A Movement for Democratic Change or any judicial independence would be impossible here.

Murray was also keen to bring to the attention of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office the dangers of trusting Uzbek “intelligence”, which he knew to be wholly unreliable. But, a month later, to his surprise, there was still no reply or even any acknowledgment from the FCO. Murray then decided to deliver a speech to a human rights conference hosted by US-based NGO Freedom House in Tashkent (the capital of Uzbekistan) in which he asserted that “Uzbekistan is not a functioning democracy”. To support this claim, he drew attention to the boiling to death of Muzafar Avazov, which he said was “not an isolated incident” (The horrific method of Avazov’s murder had been independently verified by a leading pathologist who examined the photographic evidence).

He then sent a second telegram on March 18th 2003, in which he repeated his earlier concerns:

Democracy and human rights are, despite their protestations to the contrary, in practice a long way down the US agenda here. Aid this year will be slightly less, but there is no intention to introduce any meaningful conditionality. Nobody can believe this level of aid – more than US aid to all of West Africa – is related to comparative developmental need as opposed to political support for Karimov. While the US makes token and low-level references to human rights to appease domestic opinion, they view Karimov’s vicious regime as a bastion against fundamentalism. He – and they – are in fact creating fundamentalism. When the US gives this much support to a regime that tortures people to death for having a beard or praying five times a day, is it any surprise that Muslims come to hate the West?

Again, Murray says that he received no written reply. In the third and most damning of these telegrams which is dated July 4th, Murray wrote:

In the period December 2002 to March 2003 I raised several times the issue of intelligence material from the Uzbek security services which was obtained under torture and passed to us via the CIA. I queried the legality, efficacy and morality of the practice.

I was summoned to the UK for a meeting on 8 March 2003. Michael Wood gave his legal opinion that it was not illegal to obtain and to use intelligence acquired by torture. He said the only legal limitation on its use was that it could not be used in legal proceedings, under Article 15 of the UN Convention on Torture. […]

The torture record of the Uzbek security services could hardly be more widely known. Plainly there are, at the very least, reasonable grounds for believing the material is obtained under torture. There is helpful guidance at Article 3 of the UN Convention;

“The competent authorities shall take into account all relevant considerations including, where applicable, the existence in the state concerned of a consistent pattern of gross, flagrant or mass violations of human rights.” While this article forbids extradition or deportation to Uzbekistan, it is the right test for the present question also.

On the usefulness of the material obtained, this is irrelevant. Article 2 of the Convention, to which we are a party, could not be plainer: “No exceptional circumstances whatsoever, whether a state of war or a threat of war, internal political instability or any other public emergency, may be invoked as a justification of torture.”

Nonetheless, I repeat that this material is useless – we are selling our souls for dross. It is in fact positively harmful. It is designed to give the message the Uzbeks want the West to hear. It exaggerates the role, size, organisation and activity of the IMU and its links with Al Qaida. The aim is to convince the West that the Uzbeks are a vital cog against a common foe, that they should keep the assistance, especially military assistance, coming, and that they should mute the international criticism on human rights and economic reform.

Click here to read full versions of Craig Murray’s leaked diplomatic telegrams to FCO.

Murray says he was worried by the reliance of both the CIA and MI6 on Uzbek “intelligence”. He would later argue that both agencies were not only complicit in receiving confessions based on torture, but, in consequence, had been willingly misled when it came to assessing real levels of al-Qaeda terrorism in the country. He says that it came as a tremendous shock when he slowly realised that neither the civil service nor senior British politicians such as then-Foreign Secretary Jack Straw had any interest in these documented allegations against the Karimov regime, and so it was only in the last resort that he had decided to publicly release the cables onto the internet.

On the basis of largely cooked-up accusations of inappropriate personal behaviour, Murray was then summarily dismissed. But, a little less than five years later, on April 28th 2009, Murray was at last allowed to present evidence of UK complicity in torture before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights. He wrote on his blog:

As I prepare for my evidence session before the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on 28 April, I was looking back for the evidence I gave to the European Parliament on extraordinary rendition. Unfortunately it seems that no transcript was made of the committee questioning me (unless anyone who knows the system there better than I can come up with one) but rather a kind of precis made of my evidence as a “working document”.

http://www.europarl.europa.eu/comparl/tempcom/tdip/working_docs/pe374341_en.pdf

It also helpfully published the supporting documentation I gave.

What still surprises me is that, after I gave my evidence, I was mobbed by media, gave numerous television interviews, and was headline news all over Europe. Except in the UK where there was no mention of it at all. I was pondering this over the weekend as I read a very large number of commentary pieces, in every serious newspaper, on the apparent complicity in torture and what enquiries into it may find.

I have been answering the question of the moment – was there a policy of torture – for the last five years, with eye-witness testimony backed up with documentary proof. Yet I appear not to exist to the media. Will my testimony to the JCHR also be simply ignored?

Click here to read Murray’s full post from March 31st 2009.

Now, fast-forward to just two years ago when on March 12th 2012, Murray posted another short article with embedded videos showing a speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” given to the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin. Murray writing that:

It proved useful in forcing me to pull together an overview of my current thoughts on events of the last year or so.

Intrigued, I tried to play the videos, but instead this notice popped up: “this video has been removed by the user”. Naturally, my intrigue was piqued a little more.

Two days on, and Craig Murray has posted yet another short article entitled “Beyond Irony”. It reads as follows:

The videos of both my speech and my interview at the Berlin Freedom of Expression Forum have been taken down. This is not an accident. All the other speeches and all the other interviews are still there. Both series have been renumbered to hide the fact that something has been removed.

Given that my talk was about censorship and exclusion of whistleblowers, and the lack of genuine freedom in western societies to explain an alternative policy narrative, it is hard for words adequately to describe the apparent behaviour here. The full title of the event was “Censorship and Freedom in Traditional and New Media: The Revolution of Media as a Tool of Freedom of Expression”.

I have written to the organisers to ask what is happening. It is conceivable there is an innocent explanation, though the removal from different places of both the speech and the interview seems hard to explain. Once I hear back from the Institute for Cultural Diplomacy I will let you know. I do not intend to let this lie.

The video then reappeared and it is available here (and also embedded below). If you’re looking for an inside perspective on how diplomacy actually works in ‘the real world’ then you’d be hard pressed to find much better. I can’t help noticing, however, that one part of the presentation has been snipped. Has Murray’s full statement been censored? Here is the video as it now appears:

There are a number of statements in Murray’s presentation that remain very pertinent to the situation we find almost two years later, and so in efforts to highlight these points, I have made my own transcript of the relevant parts. Clarification of his own reasons for becoming a whistleblower are available in a footnote10 and below you can read selected passages that convey his frustration at the abysmal cynicism of western realpolitik:

Western governments actually don’t really care about this human rights stuff. They pretend they care about the human rights stuff because there’s a constituency at home that cares about the human rights stuff. If you have somebody like me who tries to take them at their word in promoting human rights in a country of which they have other interests, that person becomes a threat to the state and has to be removed, as a threat in any way.

Bahrain: we have this extraordinary situation where western support for the Arab Spring evaporates when it comes to Bahrain and the Saudi invasion of Bahrain. I had a friend in a diplomatic mission at the United Nations in New York. You may recall that the Americans were pretending in public to be against the bombing of Libya right up until the last moment – a lot of propaganda was put out saying the American military were against it that they were not prepared – all the time that propaganda was put out they were moving military assets into place to do it. I had a friend in New York who phoned me before either the UNSCR 19791973, while those resolutions were under discussion at the United Nations, and before the invasion of [Libya]… This friend of mine at the United Nations phoned me and he said that the Americans are cutting a deal whereby they will okay the Saudis to invade Bahrain in exchange for an Arab League call for Nato to go into Libya. That’s how cynical realpolitik is. [from 25:30 mins]

Western policy is driven by very hard financial interests. The interests of a very elite bunch of people, who control a great deal, and indirectly control the media narrative that surrounds the explanation the public is given as to why these wars [and] these attacks on human rights happen. To go back to that intelligence in Uzbekistan, there has to be a reason why you’re supporting the Uzbek dictatorship with a lot of money and training for their armed forces. This is one of the worst dictatorships in the world. How do you justify giving that dictatorship support? Well, you justify it as part of a war on terror and that you are backing them against al-Qaeda. Except that there is no al-Qaeda in Uzbekistan. There’s virtually no al-Qaeda presence in Central Asia – there’s certainly none in Uzbekistan. [from 31:55 mins]

I’m afraid to say that in both the United States and the United Kingdom, the analysis of intelligence – which is something that I have spent quite a lot of my career doing (and which I feel I was very good) – had ceased to be a genuine intellectual exercise in determining the facts, and had become instead, a process of providing lies to government. That government wanted to publish. Making the world as it was. The government wanted to support Karimov for reasons of oil and gas and the war in Afghanistan. There needed to be a reason for supporting him, therefore, there needed to be al-Qaeda activity in Central Asia, where it did not in fact exist. And the media is complicit in this building of lies. [from 38:30 mins]

A decade has passed since Murray blew the whistle on Karimov, yet he remains both President of Uzbekistan and an American ally. His record in office during the intervening period speaks volumes. In May 2005, his authorities blocked all the exits from Babur Square, kettling the crowd before snipers and police opened fire on thousands of protesters. It is estimated that between 400–500 people were killed in cold blood. Ikrom Yakubov, a former major in the Uzbek National Security Service (SNB), said that Karimov had personally ordered massacres. He also accused the Karimov regime of “pursuing a policy of ‘false flag’ terrorism by orchestrating attacks and then blaming them on Islamist militants in an effort to demonize the opposition and win foreign support”, as well as “engineering a plane crash in 2004 that killed United Nations official Richard Conroy.”11

Nevertheless, in September 2011 Obama phoned Karimov to congratulate him on Uzbekistan’s twenty years of independence (Karimov is the nation’s first and only president) “and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.”12

Click here to read the full article about Ikrom Yakubov on Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty website.

*

Back to Syria

On the eve of the Geneva II talks, a report (which Kerry alluded to) was released establishing “compelling evidence of the systematic murder of some 11,000 detainees through starvation, beatings and torture, including the gouging of eyes and electrocution – and all that in just one part of Syria, with the strong suspicion that more such killing will have taken place elsewhere.” Here is part of Jonathan Freedland’s assessment of the evidence published writing for the Guardian on the same day [Jan 21st]:

The source of this evidence is hard to fault: a former photographer for the Syrian regime who has since defected [a source known only by the codename Caesar]. The report’s authors, who interviewed the source for three days, have no obvious axe to grind and are eminently credible: they served as prosecutors at the criminal tribunals on Sierra Leone [&] the former Yugoslavia. Those facts will surely offset any misgivings over the report’s origins: it was commissioned and funded by the government of Qatar, a player in the Syrian conflict on the anti-government side. The evidence is too overwhelming, and the reputations of those who have assessed it too strong, for this report to be dismissed as Qatari propaganda (though some will try).13

Others, however, were more questioning. Here, for instance, is veteran Middle East correspondent Robert Fisk writing in The Independent also on Jan 21st:

The pictures are horrific, the torture details revolting, the numbers terrifying. And the integrity of the three former prosecutors who have effectively accused the Syrian government of war crimes, are without blemish. Shrivelled, blood-spattered corpses provide unstoppable evidence of regime cruelty – just as the videotapes of Syrian rebel executions tell us what kind of Syria may soon exist if the insurrection against Bashar al-Assad succeeds. […]

But we should be asking a lot more questions than we have been asking about this portrait gallery of pain, unleashed only hours before an international conference in Switzerland in which we in the West – but perhaps not Qatar – hope to end the civil war in Syria.

How long, for example, have the Qatari authorities been in possession of this terrible eye-witness material? A couple of weeks, just enough time to rustle up the lawyers for the prosecution? Or a couple of months? Or six months? And, more to the point, why now? For it would be difficult to imagine a better way for Qatar – whose royal family viscerally hates Bashar al-Assad – to destroy his hopes of a future role in Syria, even in a ‘transitional’ Syrian government, than by releasing these snapshots of terror just before the Swiss talks.

Fisk’s article is subtitled “One is reminded of Nazi Germany”, but not for reasons that are immediately apparent. He continues:

Indeed, one is reminded – in terms of political purpose rather than historical parallel, of course — of Nazi Germany’s disclosure of the mass graves of 22,000 Polish officers and civilians murdered by the Soviet secret police in 1940 at Katyn, in that part of Russia newly occupied by German troops. The Nazis claimed the Soviets were responsible – in the hope that this would divide Stalin’s alliance with America and Britain. The Allies denounced the Nazis for the massacre – although it was indeed committed by the Soviets. Does Qatar now hope to divide Syria’s alliance with Russia and Iran with similar evidence of Syrian government mass murder?14

Such a strategy is unlikely to work, of course, since Iran and Russia have their own interests to defend – I will touch on this later. But Fisk is concerned not only by the involvement of Qatar as backers of the report, he is also worried about the role of solicitors Carter Ruck “– may their name be praised”. He was not alone. Here is Craig Murray writing again on his own blog:

I do not doubt at all that atrocities have been committed and are being committed by the Assad regime. It is a very unpleasant regime indeed. The fact that atrocities are also being committed by various rebel groups does not make Syrian government atrocities any better.

But whether 11,000 people really were murdered in a single detainee camp I am unsure. What I do know is that the BBC presentation of today’s report has been a disgrace. The report was commissioned by the government of Qatar who commissioned Carter Ruck to do it. Both those organisations are infamous suppressors of free speech. What is reprehensible is that the BBC are presenting the report as though it were produced by neutral experts, whereas the opposite is the case. It is produced not by anti torture campaigners or by human rights activists, but by lawyers who are doing it purely and simply because they are being paid to do it.

The BBC are showing enormous deference to Sir Desmond De Silva, who is introduced as a former UN war crimes prosecutor. He is indeed that, but it is not the capacity in which he is now acting. He is acting as a barrister in private practice. Before he was a UN prosecutor, he was for decades a criminal defence lawyer and has defended many murderers. He has since acted to suppress the truth being published about many celebrities, including John Terry.

If the Assad regime and not the government of Qatar had instructed him and paid him, he would now be on our screens arguing the opposite case to that he is putting. That is his job. He probably regards that as not reprehensible. What is reprehensible is that the BBC do not make it plain, but introduce him as a UN war crimes prosecutor as though he were acting in that capacity or out of concern for human rights. I can find no evidence of his having an especial love for human rights in the abstract, when he is not being paid for it. He produced an official UK government report into the murder of Pat Finucane, a murder organised by British authorities, which Pat Finucane’s widow described as a “sham”. He was also put in charge of quietly sweeping the Israeli murders on the Gaza flotilla under the carpet at the UN.

The question any decent journalist should be asking him is “Sir Desmond De Silva, how much did the government of Qatar pay you for your part in preparing this report? How much did it pay the other experts? Does your fee from the Government of Qatar include this TV interview, or are you charging separately for your time in giving this interview? In short how much are you being paid to say this?”

Click here to read Craig Murray’s complete article.

*

George Soros and the “colour revolutions”

Little more than a decade ago there were a series of “colour revolutions” within the former Soviet Union and across its former Eastern Bloc satellites. The ‘Bulldozer Revolution’ in 2000 had already led to the overthrow of Slobodan Milošević in Yugoslavia, and soon afterwards the Rose Revolution of Georgia (Nov 2003), would force the overthrow of Eduard Shevardnadze, whilst the less remembered Tulip Revolution (also sometimes called the “Pink Revolution” of Spring 2005) led to the downfall of President Askar Akayev in Kyrgyzstan. Then, in Belarus, the following Spring (March 2006), President Alexander Lukashenko clung on to power after the failed Jeans Revolution – denim jeans having been adopted as a symbol of freedom (the reason for this, if not already apparent, will become so after the next paragraph).

During the same period we also witnessed what became perhaps the best-known of all these post-Soviet era uprisings, the Orange Revolution in Ukraine, which started with allegations of vote rigging in the second round of the 2004 Ukrainian presidential election. A peaceful campaign of strikes and civil disobedience followed helping to force a reelection.

At the time of the Orange Revolution, Ian Traynor reported in the Guardian as follows:

With their websites and stickers, their pranks and slogans aimed at banishing widespread fear of a corrupt regime, the democracy guerrillas of the Ukrainian Pora youth movement have already notched up a famous victory – whatever the outcome of the dangerous stand-off in Kiev.

Ukraine, traditionally passive in its politics, has been mobilised by the young democracy activists and will never be the same again.

The outcome in fact was that leader of the opposition Viktor Yushchenko was declared President, defeating the man who now holds the office Viktor Yanukovych. But what is striking about the Guardian article is not only how candid Traynor is when it comes who was really backing the Ukrainian protests but his discovery that all of the “colour revolutions” had been similarly orchestrated:

But while the gains of the orange-bedecked “chestnut revolution” are Ukraine’s, the campaign is an American creation, a sophisticated and brilliantly conceived exercise in western branding and mass marketing that, in four countries in four years, has been used to try to salvage rigged elections and topple unsavoury regimes.

Funded and organised by the US government, deploying US consultancies, pollsters, diplomats, the two big American parties and US non-government organisations, the campaign was first used in Europe in Belgrade in 2000 to beat Slobodan Milosevic at the ballot box.

Richard Miles, the US ambassador in Belgrade, played a key role. And by last year, as US ambassador in Tbilisi, he repeated the trick in Georgia, coaching Mikhail Saakashvili in how to bring down Eduard Shevardnadze.

Ten months after the success in Belgrade, the US ambassador in Minsk, Michael Kozak, a veteran of similar operations in central America, notably in Nicaragua, organised a near identical campaign to try to defeat the Belarus hardman, Alexander Lukashenko.

That one failed. “There will be no Kostunica in Belarus,” the Belarus president declared, referring to the victory in Belgrade.

And who more precisely was behind it all? Ian Traynor’s article even provides a list of credits:

The Democratic party’s National Democratic Institute, the Republican party’s International Republican Institute, the US state department and USAid are the main agencies involved in these grassroots campaigns as well as the Freedom House NGO and billionaire George Soros’s open society institute.15

Click here to read the full Guardian article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev”.

*

Ukraine

On January 30th, Democracy Now! featured a debate about the latest “Euromaidan” uprising in Ukraine, posing the question: “Is Ukraine’s Opposition a Democratic Movement or a Force of Right-Wing Extremism?” To answer this question they invited two guests: Stephen Cohen, professor emeritus of Russian studies and politics at New York University and Princeton University; and Anton Shekhovtsov, a Ukrainian citizen and University College London researcher. Here is a sample of what Cohen and Shekhovtsov had to say to each other:

Anton Shekhovtsov: I wrote the piece to highlight a very dangerous trend, in my opinion, is that many people in the West buy into Russian propaganda which is saying that Euromaidan is infiltrated by the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites. And this is completely untrue. There is a far-right element in the Euromaidan protests, but it is a minor element. And Euromaidan protest is basically a multicultural, democratic movement which is trying to build a new Ukraine, a democratic Ukraine. And sometimes, by the name “far right,” there goes Ukrainian nationalism, and Ukrainian nationalism has—its main thrust is building of a truly independent Ukraine, a Ukraine which would be a national democratic state and not a colony of Russia, as Ukrainian nationalists think Ukraine is.

Stephen Cohen: Well, it’s not what Anton said. Where to begin? Can we begin at the beginning? What’s happening in Ukraine, what’s been unfolding since November in the streets, is probably the single most important international story underway today. It may impact for a very long time the geopolitics of Europe, Russia, American-Russian relations, and a lot more. At the same time, media coverage of this story, particularly in the United States, has been exceedingly misleading, very close to what Anton just told you. I would characterize Anton’s characterization, to be as polite as I can, as half-true. But a half-truth is an untruth.

The realities are, there is no “the Ukraine.” All this talk about Ukraine is on the front line of democracy—there are at least two Ukraines. One tilts toward Poland and Lithuania, the West, the European Union; the other toward Russia. This is not my notion. This is what every public opinion poll has told us since this crisis unfolded, that about 40 percent of Ukrainians want to go west, 40 percent want to stay with Russia, and, as usually true in these polls, 20 percent just don’t know or they’re not sure.

Who precipitated this crisis? It was the European Union, in this sense. It gave the Ukrainian government, which, by the way, is a democratically elected government—if you overthrow this government, just like they overthrew Morsi in Egypt, you’re dealing a serious blow to democracy. So if the crowd manages to essentially carry out a coup d’état from the streets, that’s what democracy is not about. But here’s what the European Union did back in November. It told the government of Ukraine, “If you want to sign an economic relationship with us, you cannot sign one with Russia.” Why not? Putin has said, “Why don’t the three of us have an arrangement? We’ll help Ukraine. The West will help Ukraine.” The chancellor of Germany, Merkel, at first thought that was a good idea, but she backed down for various political reasons. So, essentially, Ukraine was given an ultimatum: sign the EU economic agreement or else.

Now, what was that agreement? It would have been an economic catastrophe for Ukraine. I’m not talking about the intellectuals or the people who are well placed, about ordinary Ukrainians. The Ukrainian economy is on the brink of a meltdown. It needed billions of dollars. What did the European Union offer them? The same austerity policies that are ravaging Europe, and nothing more—$600 million. It needed billions and billions.

There’s one other thing. If you read the protocols of the European offer to Ukraine, which has been interpreted in the West as just about civilizational change, escaping Russia, economics, democracy, there is a big clause on military cooperation. In effect, by signing this, Ukraine would have had to abide by NATO’s military policies. What would that mean? That would mean drawing a new Cold War line, which used to be in Berlin, right through the heart of Slavic civilization, on Russia’s borders. So that’s where we’re at to now.

One other point: These right-wing people, whom Anton thinks are not significant, all reports—and I don’t know when he was in Ukraine, maybe it was long ago and things have gone—but the reports that are coming out of Ukraine are the following. One, the moderates—that’s the former heavyweight champion boxer, Vitali Klitschko, and others—have lost control of the street. They’ve asked the people who have been attacking the police with Molotov cocktails, and to vacate the buildings they’ve occupied, to stop. And the street will not stop, partly because—I’d say largely because—the street in Kiev is now controlled by these right-wing extremists. And that extremism has spread to western Ukraine, where these people are occupying government buildings. So, in fact, you have a political civil war underway.

What is the face of these people, this right wing? A, they hate Europe as much as they hate Russia. Their official statement is: Europe is homosexuals, Jews and the decay of the Ukrainian state. They want nothing to do with Europe. They want nothing to do with Russia. I’m talking about this—it’s not a fringe, but this very right-wing thing. What does their political activity include? It includes writing on buildings in western Ukraine, “Jews live here.” That’s exactly what the Nazis wrote on the homes of Jews when they occupied Ukraine. A priest who represents part of the political movement in western Ukraine—Putin quoted this, but it doesn’t make it false. It doesn’t make it false; it’s been verified. A western Ukrainian priest said, “We, Ukraine, will not be governed by Negroes, Jews or Russians.” So, these people have now come to the fore.

Anton Shekhovtsov: Yes. So, this is basically what I said, as I called as a distortion in the Western media. I don’t know if Professor Cohen have been in Ukraine. I’ve been to Ukraine just a few days ago. I haven’t seen that the right-wingers have taken control of the streets. The streets are controlled by Euromaidan, which is ideologically very different. There is a right-wing element, but this is the element which is only a minor component of Euromaidan. And if you remember the Solidarity movement in the ’80s in Poland, it also comprised some right-wing elements, but in the end they built a democratic national—national democratic Poland.

As for the neo-Nazis and anti-Semites in western Ukraine, there are some, but at the same time, if you talk to them, if you interview them, and if you read their demands, you will not find any discrimination laws among their demands. What they demand is the national democratic state, independent from Russia. Even if they say that they are against the European Union, they at the same time support the pro-European protests. And this is partly what Euromaidan is about.

And then, again, there are many false reports about the beatings of representatives of national minorities in Ukraine. And mostly these reports are all false. They are being spread by Russian-backed propagandists, like Viktor Medvedchuk, leader of the pro-Eurasian, pro-Russian party, Ukrainski Vybir, Ukrainian Choice. So, these people, they’re trying to distort the image of Euromaidan and picture it as something very violent, as something very right-wing, although the right-wing element, as I said, is a minor element at Euromaidan.

Stephen Cohen: Well, that’s Anton’s position. I mean, Anton represents—at least his description of the situation—the mainstream American media political view of what’s going on in Ukraine. And when I say “mainstream,” I mean it extends from the right wing in America to MSNBC, to the so-called liberals and progressives, to Bill Maher, who did this on his show the other night. There’s no alternative voice in America, except what I’m trying to say to you today. It’s wrong—it’s wrong factually, it’s wrong in terms of policy—for [John] McCain to go, as he’s done in other countries. He once said, “We’re all Georgians.” Now he’s saying, “We’re all Ukrainians.” If he understands the situation in Ukraine—and he may not—then he’s being reckless.

But a true understanding of Ukraine begins with the fact that there are at least two Ukraines, two legitimate Ukraines, culturally, politically, ethnically, economically, culturally. This isn’t Putin’s fault. This isn’t Yanukovych, the president of Ukraine’s fault. It’s either God’s fault, or it’s history’s fault. This is what came down through the centuries. The situation has been explosive since the end of the Soviet Union 22 years ago. When Western politicians go there, they’re playing with fire, metaphorically, and now they have real fire. […]

I think that the vilification of Putin in this country, demonization, is the worst press coverage by the American media of Russia that I’ve seen in my 40 years of studying Russia and contributing to the media. It’s simply almost insane. This idea that he’s a thug and that explains everything, passes for analysis in America today.

Click here to read the full transcript or watch the interview on the Democracy Now! website.

*

Zbigniew Brzezinski’s “Grand Chessboard”

Ukraine is, as Stephen Cohen says, a very divided nation. The western half, which is Ukrainian speaking, looks towards Europe; the Eastern half speaks Russian and prefers to keep its distance from the West. The opposition has been mostly portrayed as pro-EU (even when much of the sentiment is actually anti-Russia) and thus pro-democracy, which is a deliberate and calculated over-simplification.

Unfortunately for the people of Ukraine, the location of their homeland is key to winning what Arthur Conolly, an intelligence officer and captain of the British East India Company’s Sixth Bengal Light Cavalry, once called “The Great Game”, and what Zbigniew Brzezinski nearly two centuries later alluded to as “The Grand Chessboard”. Brzezinski helpfully subtitling his 1998 book of the same name, “American Primacy and Its Geostrategic Imperatives”. In other words, the very same neo-con “Pax Americana” but by another name, with Brzezinski’s preferred approach more cloak-and-dagger than the full frontal assault of the PNAC crazies.

The major strategy of this updated quest for global hegemony (“The New Great Game” as some have called it), is again little different than during the days of Arthur Conolly: to seize control of Eurasia. And just as ‘the game’ itself hasn’t significantly altered in two centuries nor have the main competitors changed much either. Back in Conolly’s time, it was Britain in one corner against Russia in the other; nowadays America sits in for the UK.

In this pursuit of global dominion, the Ukraine is a vital stronghold. Firstly, it is located approximately at the hub of the Eurasian landmass. But additionally, Ukraine currently provides Russia with access to the Black Sea; the principal base of Russia’s Black Sea Fleet being at Sevastopol – likewise, in Syria, the Russian fleet has its naval base at Tartus ensuring access to the Eastern Mediterranean. So capturing Ukraine weakens Russia militarily too, and would help in another way, therefore, to edge the world closer to Brzezinski’s stated goal of “American primacy”.

It is not by chance that Sevastopol, the second largest port in Ukraine, is located on one of the most well-known peninsulas in the world; that of the Crimea. A tongue of land jutting into the Black Sea and, like the rock of Gibraltar, of huge strategic importance. And no accident that the Crimea shares its name with an even more famous war. A war against the Russians between the years 1853–56 that is remembered, in part, for the real humanitarian courage of nurses like Florence Nightingale, but mostly because of gung-ho military campaigns such as the Battle of Balaclava (October 25th 1854) which featured that suicidally reckless charge of the Light Brigade. Old-time military madmen commanding the six hundred to ride “into the valley of Death.”16

Conolly didn’t live to hear about the shambolic pawn sacrifice at Balaklava; part of a failed attempt to capture the port and fortress of Sevastopol, which was already Russia’s principal naval base on the Black Sea. Identified as a British agent, he had been executed a decade before – beheaded in a square in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. So Conolly was himself a victim of the Great Game, just as were more innocent and forgotten thousands, losing their lives in campaign after campaign, of which the Crimean War was one brief episode. And the scars of this centuries long face-off between empires have never healed, instead the wounds are routinely reopened. Indeed, that earlier age of imperialism never ended but has skilfully reinvented itself: the significant difference between old imperialism and more swanky neo-imperialism being one of image. In the modern world running up your flag above a defeated territory is no way to win respect or curry favour whether at home or abroad.

Incidentally, Brzezinski was one of the attendees at the recent 50th Munich Security Conference (January 31st –February 2nd). Other guests included John McCain, James Clapper, Henry Kissinger, the godfather of the neo-cons, and Tony Blair (what rogues gallery would be complete without him). One of the newcomers to this annual meeting was Vitali Klitschko, another was Arseniy Yatsenyuk. Here is a report about what they were discussing:

The government has gone against what Ukrainians want, Klitschko said before the Munich Security Conference, adding: “There is no victory without a fight [and] we are going to fight.”

The former world boxing champion turned opposition politician also said government threats would not intimidate his side, which has Western backing. “Democratic powers won’t let themselves be frightened,” he said.

Klitschko called for a return to the country’s 2004 constitution, which would sharply curtail the president’s power, while also demanding the government release critics and hold elections as soon as possible.

Opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk also addressed the conference on Saturday, accusing the Ukraine government of preparing for a state of emergency by readying its military. “A military intervention is an option for this government,” Yatsenyuk said.

Also at the gathering was John Kerry. This is what Kerry had to say about the Ukrainian protests:

Earlier on Saturday, US Secretary of State John Kerry reaffirmed Western backing for the Ukrainian opposition.

“Nowhere is the fight for a democratic, European future more important today than in Ukraine,” he said. “The United States and EU stand with the people of Ukraine.”

So does this mean that the US are banking on Klitschko becoming President of the Ukraine? Or would they prefer Yatsenyuk? Well, they say that a week is a long time in geopolitics…

In a leaked conversation posted on YouTube, the state department official Victoria Nuland revealed the White House’s frustrations at Europe‘s hesitant policy towards pro-democracy protests in Ukraine, which erupted late last year. Nuland was talking to the US ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt.

So begins an article in Friday’s [Feb 7th] Guardian, which continues:

In the tapes, Nuland and Pyatt discuss the upheavals in Ukraine, and Yanukovych’s offer last month to make the opposition leader Arseniy Yatsenyuk the new prime minister and Vitali Klitschko deputy prime minister. Both men turned the offer down.

Nuland, who in December went to Independence Square in Kiev in a sign of support for the demonstrators, adds that she has also been told that the UN chief, Ban Ki-moon, is about to appoint a former Dutch ambassador to Kiev, Robert Serry, as his representative to Ukraine.

“That would be great I think to help glue this thing and have the UN glue it and you know, fuck the EU,” she says, in an apparent reference to differences over their policies.

“We’ve got to do something to make it stick together, because you can be pretty sure that if it does start to gain altitude the Russians will be working behind the scenes to try to torpedo it,” Pyatt replies.

In the phone call, Nuland suggests that Klitschko, the former world champion boxer, is not yet suited to take a major government role, in contrast to Yatsenyuk.

“I don’t think Klitsch should go into the government,” she apparently said.

“I think Yats is the guy who’s got the economic experience, he’s got the governing experience,” she adds.17 [bold emphasis added]

Which is how it really works (behind closed doors). Those in Washington busily trying to reorder the world into their own version of what they will then sell to us as a “Pax Americana”. Under the new imperialism, the duty falling on state department officials like Victoria Nuland to carry the white man’s burden. Making the big decisions on who should be appointed to govern the overseas dependencies.

*

And back once more to Syria

All of the post-9/11 wars have brought chaos and greater despair, but sadly this repeated failure provides little disincentive to the movers and shakers: those like Brzezinski and Kissinger (with Soros generally somewhere in the background), and a little lower in the pecking order, those like McCain and Kerry. Because their constant objective is really only to expand the American empire, or if that cannot be achieved, then to undermine the position of their main rivals – historically, Russia has always been the major opposing power, and remains so today, so Russian interests are a primary target.

The wars in any case satisfy two more immediate objectives, which are racketeering and piracy. Racketeering, since there are huge profits from insider deals on armaments and military accessories – again, nothing new in this, as Gen. Smedley Butler eloquently detailed in his 1935 pamphlet “War is a Racket”; and piracy, since the goal of each new adventure is to seize resources – first and foremost the energy resources, but happy to grab whatever other valuable assets and resources are available too.

In Syria, as in Afghanistan, Iraq and in Libya already, the gravest danger is that another war without end between sects and gangs has been unleashed. Warlords stealing territories and then battling against neighbouring warlords. The country torn to shreds by factional infighting. And the unspeakable truth is that the neo-imperialist agenda is more often helped by such schisms. Divide and conquer always the preferred way to rule, and failed states are the end product of our ongoing wars, in part, because failed states are so much riper for plundering.

In his last Geneva II speech, Kerry went straight for the emotional jugular. The civil war is terrible, Assad is to blame, he must go and then everything will be better again. But if and when Assad is run to ground and the fanatics of al-Qaeda are victorious, they will never sit down peacefully with the pro-democracy moderates. These “rebels” didn’t join the fight just for a share in Syria’s democratic future. They came on a holy mission of transforming Syria into one emirate of a greater caliphate ruled under hardline Sharia law. And Syria is now overrun by Jihadists, which means, unless Kerry is truly a fool, that he perfectly well understands the probable outcome of what he unflinchingly demands. Instead, real diplomacy with concessions made by all sides (al-Qaeda excluded) is the only hope left for Syria. As Geneva II begins a second round of talks, this hope rests with Kerry consenting to a more flexible and conciliatory way ahead.

*

Additional: Back to Ukraine

Flanked by street-sized poster adverts for Exxon Mobil and Chevron, Victoria Nuland spoke late last year [Dec 13th] to the “US-Ukraine Foundation” calling on the Ukraine to accept what she described as the “necessary” IMF reforms:

“The reforms that the IMF insists on are necessary for the long term economic health of the country. A new deal with the IMF would also send a positive signal to private markets, and would increase foreign direct investment that is so urgently needed in Ukraine. Signing the Association Agreement with the EU would also put the Ukraine on a path to strengthening the sort of stable and predictable business environment that investors require. There is no other path that would bring Ukraine back to long term political stability and economic growth.” [from 5 mins]

In other words, welcome to the EU club – and get in line behind Greece, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and Italy for a strong dose of IMF shock therapy.

Nuland also proudly announced that the United States had spent “over five billion dollars to assist” the country:

Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions, as the promote civic participation and good governance, all of which are preconditions for Ukraine to achieve its European aspirations. We’ve invested over five billion dollars to assist Ukraine in these and other goals that will ensure a secure and prosperous and democratic Ukraine. [from 7:30 mins]

Not that the US have been alone in lavishing their money on Ukraine. The Chinese have also been investing heavily since the financial crisis began, buying into everything from agriculture to railways, and of course, back in mid-December, the Russians were busy brokering their own bailout deal:

Russia lavished Ukraine with a bailout package worth at least $20 billion Tuesday [Dec 17th], trumping the West in a Cold War-tinged struggle that keeps the former Soviet republic in Moscow’s orbit.

Announced after talks in the Kremlin between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Ukrainian counterpart Viktor Yanukovych on Tuesday, the deal gives Ukraine loans and cheaper natural-gas supplies.

It appears to be substantially larger and the terms less restrictive than the aid the West had been offering to entice Ukraine to sign the EU’s trade-and-political accord. Russian officials said the first $3 billion in credits could be released within days.

“Ukraine’s trade with Russia makes it impossible for us to act in any other way,” Mr. Yanukovych said, referring to the deep economic links between the two countries. “There is no alternative to this.”

Hardly surprisingly, the pro-EU (and anti-Russia) protesters disagreed. The same Wall Street Journal article reminding us:

Those demonstrators—and Ukraine’s opposition—were livid at the news of the deal with Moscow on Tuesday.

“He has given up Ukraine’s national interests, given up independence and prospects for a better life for every Ukrainian,” an opposition leader, Vitali Klitschko, told crowds on Kiev’s Independence Square.

Possibly true, however, the alternative is to give up independence to the IMF and the EU (which along with close associates the ECB make up the rightly hated Troika). Giving up sovereignty to “the Troika” will mean the imposition of savage “austerity measures”.

Here’s what John McCain said in a speech at the Atlantic Council just a week after Nuland on December 19th:

“Fifth, if Ukraine’s political crisis persists or deepens, which is a real possibility, we must support creative Ukrainian efforts to resolve it. Senator Murphy and I heard a few such ideas last weekend – from holding early elections, as the opposition is now demanding, to the institution of a technocratic government with a mandate to make the difficult reforms required for Ukraine’s long-term economic health and sustainable development.” [my bold highlight added]

The people of Italy and Greece are already rather familiar with “the institution of a technocratic government”, both nations having suffered under the appointments of Goldman Sachs usurpers Mario Monti and Lucas Papademos respectively. McCain is recommending that the opposition in Ukraine should be prepared to opt for similar conditions of economic dictatorship and their own hefty dose of shock therapy. Is this what revolution in Ukraine might bring?

Click here to read McCain’s full statement.

Returning Victoria Nuland’s presentation at the “US-Ukraine Foundation”, and how do those apparent sponsors Chevron and Exxon Mobil fit into the bigger picture?

This is from Reuters on November 5th:

Ukraine signed a $10 billion shale gas production-sharing agreement with U.S. Chevron (CVX.N) on Tuesday [Nov 5th], another step in a drive for more energy independence from Russia. [my bold highlight]

Ukraine Energy Minister Eduart Stavytsky, who signed the deal with Chevron executive Derek Magness, set it in the context of a high price Ukraine pays Russia for its gas.

“This is one more step towards achieving full energy independence for the state. This will bring cheaper gas prices and the sort of just prices which exist (elsewhere) in the world,” he said.

Yes, Chevron are in it for the frack… and as for Exxon Mobil, they get ample rewards too. Another article from Bloomberg on the same day reporting that:

Ukraine announced natural gas deals with Chevron Corp (CVX) and Exxon Mobil Corp (XOM) in a push to cut costs by two-thirds and reduce its dependence on Russia.

The Ukrainian government signed a production-sharing agreement with Chevron for extraction of shale gas in the Oleske field, Energy Minister Eduard Stavytskyi said today at a press conference in Kiev. Another production-sharing agreement with an Exxon-led group for exploring the Skifska field in the Black Sea may follow by the end of the month, he said.

Victoria Nuland speaks of building “democratic skills and institutions” and promoting “civic participation and good governance”, but this contest over Ukraine really has nothing at all to do with freedom and democracy – and those large corporate adverts say it all. This is actually about money and fossil fuels. It’s the geostrategic interests, stupid!

*

1 From an article entitled “Syria Ghouta Gas Attack: Assad a Thug and Murderer, Says US Secretary of State John Kerry” written by Gianluca Mezzofiore, published by International Business Times on August 30, 2013. http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/syria-assad-thug-murderer-john-kerry-502675

2 From an article entitled “New analysis of rocket used in Syria chemical attack undercuts U.S. claims” written by Matthew Schofield, published by McClatchy on January 15, 2014. http://www.mcclatchydc.com/2014/01/15/214656/new-analysis-of-rocket-used-in.html

3 From an article entitled “The silent military coup that took over Washington: This time it’s Syria, last time it was Iraq. Obama chose to accept the entire Pentagon of the Bush era: its wars and its war crimes” written by John Pilger, published in the Guardian on September 10, 2013. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/sep/10/silent-military-coup-took-over-washington

4 From a transcript of John Kerry’s statement at Geneva II conference on January 22, 2014. Published by the Washington Post. http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/transcript-john-kerrys-remarks-at-geneva-ii-conference-on-syria-on-jan-22/2014/01/22/f2ec3a56-83b8-11e3-bbe5-6a2a3141e3a9_story.html

6 From an article entitled “Whose Sarin?” written by Seymour Hersh, published by the London Review of Books on December 19, 2013. http://www.lrb.co.uk/v35/n24/seymour-m-hersh/whose-sarin

7 From an article entitled “More Than 50 Countries Helped the CIA Outsource Torture” written by Spencer Ackerman, published by Wired magazine on February 5, 2013. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2013/02/54-countries-rendition/

8 From an article entitled “Al-Qaeda’s specter in Syria”, written by Ed Husain, published by the Council on Foreign Relations on August 6, 2012. http://www.cfr.org/syria/al-qaedas-specter-syria/p28782

9 The quote taken from Craig Murray’s testimony given to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights on April 28, 2009. His remarks are made 6:15 mins into the video embedded below:

Murray has also provided more detailed accounts of the kinds of torture involved, including the torture of children in front of their parents, on other occasions. For instance, you can hear his account from in the speech entitled “Realism or Hypocrisy? – Western Diplomacy and Freedom of Expression” on freedom of expression given at the Institute of Cultural Diplomacy in Berlin in March 2012 and already embedded above [from approx 34–36 mins].

10

“I am a reluctant whistleblower, as you’ll see from those telegrams going around [copies had been passed out to the audience]. I was attempting internally, using classification in secret, to stop the policy of obtaining intelligence from torture. And I did think that I would be able to stop it. I had no idea that government ministers throughout the civilised so-called world had decided that we should use torture as an instrument of policy. I thought that this must be something the security services were doing without the knowledge of politicians and that I would be able to stop it. That’s why I sent those telegrams. In fact, sadly, the West had moved to a policy of advocating torture.” [from 23:50 mins]

11 From an article entitled “Former Uzbek Spy Accuses Government Of Massacres, Seeks Asylum” written by Jeffrey Donovan, published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty on September 1, 2008. http://www.rferl.org/content/Former_Uzbek_Spy_Seeks_Asylum/1195372.html

12 According to a White House press release dated September 28, 2011 which reads:

“President Obama spoke with President Islam Karimov of Uzbekistan earlier today by phone. President Obama congratulated President Karimov on Uzbekistan’s 20 years of independence, and the two leaders pledged to continue working to build broad cooperation between our two countries.  The President and President Karimov discussed their shared desire to develop a multi-dimensional relationship between the United States and Uzbekistan, including by strengthening the contacts between American and Uzbek civil societies and private sector.  President Obama expressed our view that a more prosperous and secure Uzbekistan benefits both countries, and that advancing democracy supports that goal.  The two presidents also discussed their shared interests in supporting a stable, secure, and prosperous Afghanistan and discussed the efforts we are undertaking together to further that goal.”

http://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2011/09/28/readout-president-s-call-president-karimov-uzbekistan

13 From an article entitled “Can evidence of mass killings in Syria end the inertia? Only with Putin’s help” written by Jonathan Freedland, published in the Guardian on January 21, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2014/jan/21/evidence-mass-murder-syria-end-inertia-putin?CMP=twt_gu&commentpage=1

14 From an article entitled “Syria report: One is reminded of Nazi Germany” written by Robert Fisk, published by The Independent on January 21, 2014. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/syria-report-one-is-reminded-of-nazi-germany-9075743.html?origin=internalSearch

15 From an article entitled “US campaign behind turmoil in Kiev” written by Ian Traynor, published in the Guardian on November 26, 2004. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2004/nov/26/ukraine.usa

16 As then- poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson famously commemorated the incident in a narrative poem of the same title.

17 From an article entitled “Angela Merkel: Victoria Nuland’s remarks on EU are unacceptable” written by Ed Pilkington, Luke Harding “and agencies”, published in the Guardian on February 7, 2014. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/07/angela-merkel-victoria-nuland-eu-unacceptable

1 Comment

Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, austerity measures, Bahrain, Craig Murray, drones, fracking (shale & coal seam gas), Iran, John Pilger, Qatar, Russia, Seymour Hersh, Syria, Ukraine, USA, Uzbekistan

Britain for once has led the way, and now America must hold Obama’s feet to the fire

Humanitarian intervention or punitive action? Both say the supporters of war against Syria, adding that not to act will be to risk undermining international law. Which international law? Well actually no law, but rather the most flimsy and thus flexible “emerging norm” known as “Responsibility to Protect” (or R2P), which consists of a set of principles based upon the idea that sovereignty is not a right, but a responsibility, and with its precedents set especially by UN Security Council Resolutions 1973 and 1975 against Libya and Ivory Coast respectively. There is more about the dangers of this doctrine in an article I posted in April 2011.

So we have humanitarian concern mixed up with calls for punishment, and then there is also this argument of recourse to international law when the accepted rule of law (as determined by the UN Security Council) is to be by-passed altogether. That none of this makes coherent sense is clearly one reason why so many MPs from all parties – each of whom deserves enormous credit for standing tall and being counted – made the decision to block the government’s already stated commitment to attack Syria. Added to which there are many more reasons, some of which are deeply troubling, for why the MPs were not merely justified but obliged to stand firm. Firstly, there is the question of consequences, the likelihood being that these will be altogether catastrophic both for the region but also for the world more widely, and then there is also this…

If Barack Obama decides to attack the Syrian regime, he has ensured – for the very first time in history – that the United States will be on the same side as al-Qa’ida.

Quite an alliance! Was it not the Three Musketeers who shouted “All for one and one for all” each time they sought combat? This really should be the new battle cry if – or when – the statesmen of the Western world go to war against Bashar al-Assad.1

So writes veteran Middle Eastern correspondent Robert Fisk in an article published on Tuesday [Aug 27th] in The Independent. And Fisk then goes on to make an extraordinary set of claims (or at least many will think his claims extraordinary), laid out angrily beneath the striking headline banner “Does Obama know he’s fighting on al-Qa’ida’s side?”

Click here to read Robert Fisk’s full article.

The answer to Fisk’s provocative, if rhetorical, question is actually well known. Yes, Obama has been very well aware and for a very long time that “the rebels” are largely pro-al Qaeda sympathisers and spearheaded by al-Qaeda affiliates al-Nusra – as I have already detailed a number of times in earlier posts about the Syrian crisis. It has really not been much of a secret at all that in Syria we are engaged in backing an opposition that is increasingly comprised of Jihadist forces. And if this apparently makes no sense especially since, as Fisk also notes, “the Americans drone al-Qa’ida to death in Yemen and Pakistan” then the inconsistency ought to serve to highlight how the real agenda here is not the one being advertised at home.

The main thrust of Fisk’s article is an excellent one, and even if one important detail is significantly wrong – that contrary to his claim, the Americans have worked alongside al-Qaeda on many previous occasions. Given the timing of its publication perhaps Fisk’s article even helped to nudge some of our MPs to vote down both government and opposition motions at the end of yesterday’s Commons debate. However, the bigger reasons why our nation has thankfully side-stepped direct military involvement in yet another expansionist war have almost nothing to do with the mainstream voices.

Instead, yesterday’s “sensational” decision in the Commons (and here I am stealing the word chosen by Jeremy Paxman on last night’s Newsnight) has everything to do with the lead up to the Iraq war: the debacle surrounding the “Dodgy Dossier” as well as the huge protests calling on Blair’s government to refrain from military action. That intelligence reports are sometimes “sexed up” so dissenting opinion can be marginalised and overridden has left a bitter taste in the mouth of the British electorate and also provides a cause for concern for those Members of Parliament with any conscience, not to mention others who may be more worried about seeking re-election. In other words, after more than a decade of lies and deception, the warmongers have finally reaped a little of what they themselves had sown.

This does not mean that the warmongers will not still get their way, of course, but yesterday’s decision certainly goes a long way in helping to restrain them. For certainly it must have come as a tremendous shock to Obama when he first heard the news, just as it came as a shock to many here including myself. So what does Obama do next? Sadly, but hardly surprisingly, his immediate response is to continue to press ahead even if now without the support of America’s most obedient ally.

If Obama does now decide to authorise a military assault on Syria then he will be acting in near total isolation. He will be acting against a UN mandate and without congressional approval, and so the final veil disguising his increasingly ruthless foreign policy will be have to be jettisoned altogether. Obama the Nobel Peace Prize laureate defrocked, and his aggression just as nakedly displayed as previous winner Henry Kissinger (not that Kissinger has ever appeared remotely like anything but the warmonger he truly is – even Nobel Peace Prizes can only disguise so much killing).

Here is what Presidential candidate Obama said about military intervention back in 2007:

The President does not have power under the Constitution to unilaterally authorize a military attack in a situation that does not involve stopping an actual or imminent threat to the nation.2

Click here to read a full transcript of an interview he gave to Charlie Savage in December 2007.

But Congress, just like our own British parliament, is currently in recess. So shouldn’t Obama have Congress recalled to satisfy Constitutional requirements? Well there is now a growing demand for Congress to be reconvened:

A group of around 90 lawmakers are demanding that the president reconvene Congress for an emergency session and allow a vote to take place before any strike against the Assad regime.

The White House has said it is “consulting directly” with Congressional leaders but has made no move to call legislators back from their summer recess nor signaled it will wait for a vote before launching strikes.

The effort to force Mr Obama to submit to Congressional approval is being led by Representative Scott Rigell, a Virginia Republican, who said he expects more than 100 representatives to sign a letter he is sending to the White House.3

And another congressman who has now joined the calls for a vote on military action is fellow Democrat Jerrold Nadler, warning Obama in a statement released on Wednesday [Aug 28th] that the “Constitution Requires Congressional Authorization on Use of Force Against Syria”:

The Constitution requires that, barring an attack on the United States or an imminent threat to the U.S., any decision to use military force can only be made by Congress – not by the President. The decision to go to war – and we should be clear, launching a military strike on another country, justified or not, is an act of war – is reserved by the Constitution to the American people acting through their elected representatives in Congress.

Since there is no imminent threat to the United States, there is no legal justification for bypassing the Constitutionally-required Congressional authorization. “Consultation” with Congress is not sufficient. The Constitution requires Congressional authorization.

Click here to read Nadler’s full statement.

Since yesterday’s vote the BBC has done little more than harp on relentlessly about whether or not Britain is diminished as a leading international player, and how our failure to respond has damaged “the special relationship” with America. But in truth Britain had already lost most of its international credibility, and thanks largely to Tony Blair who left us in no doubt that we had become little more than “America’s poodle”. Back then, of course, the French were being castigated and singled out as a bunch of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys”, but suddenly the surrender monkeys are back in favour! And we ought to remember that Britain has gone against the will of America before, when Harold Wilson refused to buckle under immense pressure and instead left it to the French and the Americans to get bogged down in the jungles of Indochina.

Furthermore, this line of argument also mistakes America for the White House, whilst entirely forgetting how public opinion in America is no more favourable when it comes attacking Syria than here in Britain. So, as Obama decides what to do next, we must now hope that Congress and American public opinion will be able to restrain his push for war. Unfortunately, however, the battleships are already in place and so right now Obama will be desperate to save his own face. Obviously the immediate situation remains an extremely perilous one.

For once, however, Britain has played an important part in leading the way to peace. For once I am genuinely proud of my nation and ready to applaud all of the Members of Parliament who resisted pressure from their parties to fold. They have, temporarily at least, saved us the ignominy of embarking on yet another thinly-veiled neo-imperialist adventure, and hopefully may have helped to set a new course in world affairs; sparing the Middle East from war without end and helping to prevent a new Cold War from turning hot.

*

Update:

A full list of the MPs who voted against the government motion authorising the possible use of military force against Syria is now available on the New Statesman website. Those saying no included 224 Labour MPs, 30 Conservatives and a meager 9 Liberal Democrats. The motion was defeated by 285 votes to 272. I notice incidentally that my own MP, Paul Blomfield, is absent from the list.

1 From an article entitled “Does Obama know he’s fighting on al-Qa’ida’s side?” written by Robert Fisk, published in The independent on August 27, 2013. http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/does-obama-know-hes-fighting-on-alqaidas-side-8786680.html

2 Transcribed from an interview with Charlie Savage from December 20, 2007. http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2008/specials/CandidateQA/ObamaQA/

3 From an article entitled “Growing demand in Congress for vote on Syria attack” written by Raf Sanchez, published in The Telegraph on August 28, 2013. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/middleeast/syria/10272130/Growing-demand-in-Congress-for-vote-on-Syria-attack.html

Leave a comment

Filed under al-Qaeda & DAESH / ISIS / ISIL, analysis & opinion, Britain, Syria, USA